NC Bicycle Laws

This is a collection of the more relevant bicycle laws in NC. For the entire legislation, visit North Carolina’s DOT page here.

North Carolina traffic laws require bicyclists to:

  1. Ride on the right in the same direction as other traffic.
  2. Obey all traffic signs and signals.
  3. Use hand signals to communicate intended movements to vehicle, and clearly audible signals to any pedestrians who may be affected by the bicyclist’s movements.
  4. Yield the right-of-way to pedestrians, and it is the bicyclist’s responsibility to avoid a collision with a pedestrian
  5. Equip their bicycles with a front lamp visible from 300 feet and a rear reflector that is visible from a distance of 200 feet when riding at night.
  6. All bicycle operators under 16 years of age must wear a bicycle helmet on public roads, public paths and public rights-of-way.
  7. All child passengers under 40 pounds or 40 inches must be seated and secured in a child seat or a bicycle trailer.
  8. Bicycling on Interstate or fully controlled limited access highways, such as beltlines, is prohibited by policy, unless otherwise specified by action of the Board of Transportation.

Below are some issues for which there are no laws against, or issues for which legislation is determined by local ordinances. Such an issue is that of riding bicycles on the sidewalks. We do not know if this is illegal in Durham, but to be on the safe side, assume it is illegal!

  1. Requiring bicyclists to ride single file, nor is there a law that gives cyclists the right to ride two or more abreast. It is important to ride responsibly and courteously, so that cars may pass safely.
  2. Prohibiting the wearing of headphones when riding a bicycle; however, it is not recommended. It is important to use all your senses to ensure your safety when riding in traffic.
  3. Requiring bicyclists to dismount from their bicycle at a crosswalk; however, it is not recommended.
  4. Prohibiting bicyclists from riding on the sidewalk. Remember to ride safely and be respectful of pedestrians’ rights.

Note that North Carolina defines a bicycle as a vehicle (though a non-motorized vehicle), and so all laws that apply to cars can apply to bikes. For example, it was recently made against the law to ride a bicycle while under the influence—alcohol was involved in more than one-third of bike fatalities in the year 2000. This suggests that bicycles should NOT be ridden on the sidewalk, since it is illegal for vehicles to do so.


Every attempt has been made to provide complete and thorough information on the North Carolina laws pertaining to bicycles. cannot be held responsible for any exclusions, omissions nor deletions of relevant laws. If you have questions or concerns regarding North Carolina law pertaining to bicycles or pedestrians, you may wish to consultan attorney.


9 responses

  1. Christy Tyer

    Thanks for reviewing the rules of safe cycling. I have seen people on bikes run stop signs etc. right here on Duke campus. My understanding is that you should operate a bike just as if it was a car and follow all laws accordingly. I would hate for anyone on the Duke campus/medical center get hurt because they were not following the laws.

    February 16, 2011 at 11:29 PM

    • Totally agree Christy. I have never seen police ticket cyclers but it does happen. Currently in NYC there is a big crack down on police ticketing riders that fail to abide by traffic laws. The “Bike Snob NYC” has been giving updates about this.

      Much of the uproar seems to be about police confiscating bikes of fixie riders that don’t ride with rim brakes. Could be the end of an underground culture. But im pretty sure their recent popularity and stock production of “custom” fixies has already killed it.


      February 17, 2011 at 7:19 PM

  2. Does NC have laws about safe passing distance for cars? (Not that drivers follow them)

    May 25, 2012 at 6:26 PM

  3. John

    I would get legal advice on your assessment that there are no laws addressing the crosswalk and sidewalk issues. Their status as a “vehicle” subjects them (as you have pointed out) to all laws affecting motor vehicles unless specifically exempted. Motor vehicles cannot be legally operated on the sidewalk or driven along a crosswalk. A recent fatality in Charlotte brought up the sidewalk issue and it was noted that riging on the sidewalk was illegal. The requirement to “ride on right, in the same direction as traffic” would also imply the need to remain in the street. While the first two points about single-file riding and headphone use are on the DOT’s list of areas where the law is silent, neither sidewalks or crosswalks ARE, so apparently THEY don’t find the law “silent” on those.

    August 3, 2012 at 11:41 AM

  4. John

    BTW, the picture posted under “Duke Biker of the Month” (riding while texting) is a very poor example of riding safely.

    August 3, 2012 at 11:43 AM

  5. Hi John, thanks for your comments and for bringing up the issue of riding bicycles on the sidewalks. It seems there is no unified legal ruling on whether bicycles are allowed to ride on the sidewalks in NC. The DOT’s “A guide to North Carolina’s bicycling and pedestrian laws” states the following:

    “The General Statutes do not address bicycling on
    sidewalks. Rather this issue is usually addressed
    through local ordinances. ”

    Not much help… And as you stated it is indeed illegal in Charlotte. So what about Durham? I’m not sure, so to be safe I will change the section above to better address this issue. Thanks for bringing this up.


    August 4, 2012 at 3:08 PM

  6. Tom

    Is there a website for used bikes in Durham area or on campus after semesters when bikes are rounded up?

    July 8, 2013 at 7:41 PM

    • Not that I know of. I would suggest looking on craigslist during that time. I know there is a bike grave yard by the Duke career center building where all the bikes are taken that have been rotting on the racks all year. But I dont know what happens to them. I assume they get donated to the Durham Bike Coop, but im not positive.

      July 8, 2013 at 8:41 PM

  7. Todd Jones


    The law states a vehicle must give at least two feet clearance, which is a bit troubling. However, consulting Chapter Six of the Driver’s Handbook, you’ll note it is illegal for a car to pass a bicycle on a two lane road if there is traffic in the oncoming lane. Also note bicycles have right to the entire lane. I think cavalier reliance on these laws will get you in trouble, but there it is.

    December 9, 2014 at 12:48 AM

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s