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Operation of Bicycles on Pennsylvania Roadways

With certain exceptions, Section 3501 of the Vehicle Code of Pennsylvania (75 Pa.C.S. §3501) mandates that every person riding a bicycle upon a roadway must be granted all of the rights and must be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle. A bicyclist must have the bike under such control that he or she can stop or turn it and avoid collision with persons or other vehicles. If a bicyclist is a minor teenager, he or she is considered capable of appreciating the dangers that are incident to street travel. Lopo v. McFadden, 30 Luz. L. Reg. Rep. 279 (1947). However, under Section 3503 of the Vehicle Code, the parent of any child is responsible if the parent knowingly permits his or her child to violate the provisions of the Vehicle Code.

Bicyclists are exempt from some of the provisions of the Vehicle Code that would otherwise control their activities. While vehicles may not be operated upon sidewalks, the applicable section of the code (75 Pa.C.S. §3703) specifically excludes “human-powered vehicles." However, Section 3508 of the Vehicle Code provides that bicycles shall not be operated “upon a sidewalk in a business district unless permitted by official traffic-control devices, nor when a usable pedalcycle-only lane has been provided adjacent to the sidewalk." Additionally, local governments may enact ordinances prohibiting certain activities regarding bicycles. An example is Section 12-808 of the Philadelphia Code, prohibiting anyone 12 years of age or older from riding a bike on any sidewalks in the City.

Section 3506 of the Vehicle Code provides that bicycle operators are not permitted to carry any package or article that would prevent the operator from keeping at least one hand upon the handlebars. Since a bicycle is a vehicle under the Vehicle Code, bicycle operators must comply with Section 4903, prohibiting the operation of a vehicle if it is loaded in such a manner that any of its load would be dropped. Section 3507 of the Vehicle Code also establishes the required equipment that must be maintained on bicycles when they are operated on highways.

While sections of the Vehicle Code pertaining to “vehicles" would apply to bicycles, any section that pertains to “motor vehicles" would, by definition, not apply to a bicycle. (Section 102 of the Vehicle Code contains these definitions). Other sections of the code specifically exclude bicycles from activities that are permitted for motor vehicles; such as prohibiting bicycles from the use of freeways (75 Pa.C.S. §3511).

As a rule, a motorist has the duty of exercising ordinary or reasonable care under the circumstances toward children on bicycles on or near a highway or street. While a motorist is obligated to appreciate that young bicyclists are not required to act with the care and deliberation of adults, a motorist is under no absolute duty to anticipate that a child who is riding a bicycle will suddenly swerve and without warning move into the path of his or her vehicle. Burrell v. Philadelphia Elec. Co., 438 Pa. 286, 265 A.2d 516 (1970).

The mere fact that a motorist hit a child riding a bicycle is by itself not sufficient to establish that the motorist was careless or inattentive. Haeberle v. Peterson, 262 Pa. Super. 247, 396 A.2d 738 (1978). However, where a motorist sees that a child is in a place of danger or has reasonable grounds to suspect that a child may ride his or her bicycle into the path of the motorist's vehicle, a higher degree of care is mandated than that required under ordinary circumstances, and the motorist then has a duty to exercise such a reasonable degree of care as is required by the circumstances. Fries v. Ritter, 381 Pa. 470, 112 A.2d 189 (1955) (disapproved of by Smith v. Bell Tel. Co. of Pa., 397 Pa. 134, 153 A.2d 477 (1959)).In such instance, the motorist may be negligent for failing to exercise due care under the circumstances presented.

Section 3705 of the Vehicle Code regarding the operation of motor vehicles also has specific application to a common vehicle-bicycle type of accident, in which a bicyclist runs into an opened door of a parked car: “No person shall open any door on a motor vehicle unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so and can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic ...." Although a motorist or passenger has a right to step out of his or her vehicle and onto a roadway, there is a duty to look for approaching traffic, including bicycles, when doing so, and he or she must continue to look and exercise reasonable care under the circumstances. Heath v. Klosterman, 343 Pa. 501, 23 A.2d 209 (1941).

While bicycles may be parked on sidewalks or roadways, Section 3509 of the Vehicle Code provides that they must not be parked in such a manner as to obstruct the movement of a legally parked motor vehicle, or in any other manner that conflicts with the rules regarding the parking of motor vehicles.

A bicycle is a “vehicle" under the Vehicle Code and the operator of a bicycle is subject to prosecution for driving under the influence of alcohol or controlled substance. Commonwealth v. Brown, 423 Pa. Super. 264, 620 A.2d 1213 (1993). However, a bicycle is not a “motor vehicle" and, therefore, the implied consent law (under which motor vehicle operators are deemed to have given consent to chemical tests of breath, blood or urine for determining the alcohol content of blood) is not applicable to the operator of a bicycle. Commonwealth v. Sheriff, 7 Pa. D. & C.4th 201, (C.P. 1990), aff'd, 414 Pa. Super. 652, 598 A.2d 1333 (1991). Evidence of consumption of alcohol by a bicyclist is inadmissible as unfairly prejudicial, unless it reasonably establishes intoxication, including objective criteria such as staggering, stumbling, slurred speech or erratic operation of the bike. Locke v. Claypool, 426 Pa. Super. 528, 627 A.2d 801 (1993).

For additional information, see Pennsylvania Rules of the Road, by Dale G. Larrimore, Esquire, Volume 13 of West’s Pennsylvania Practice series, © 2011 Thomson Reuters.

Additional resources provided by the author

Pennsylvania Rules of the Road, 2011-2012 ed. (Vol. 13, West's® Pennsylvania Practice)
By Dale G Larrimore
Copyright: 2011Thomson Reuters
Last Updated: 11/9/2011

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