The geography of Alaska presents unique challenges to bicyclists. Given the state’s vast terrain, potential wildlife encounters, limited daylight hours, and extreme weather conditions, cycling in The Last Frontier can be demanding. Despite these challenges, however, bicycling communities in Alaska are on the rise. Many Alaskans use bicycles for recreational activities, exercise, and even as a means of transportation in urban areas. In cities like Anchorage and Fairbanks, there are dedicated bike lane networks, paths, and trails that promote safe cycling.
Alaska's bicycle laws emphasize the importance of treating bicycles like regular vehicles, having them adhere to traffic regulations—while at the same time affording them allowances to account for the ride’s versatility and the increased safety risks to cyclists.
But despite the safety measures embedded in Alaska’s bicycle laws, accidents do happen, often involving motor vehicle drivers who cannot share roadways safely. This article outlines statewide bike laws and regulations, as well as the legal protections that bicycle operators are entitled to in the event of a collision or a riding accident.
Alaska Bicyclists’ Right to the Road
Bicycling in Alaska is subject to the same traffic laws as motor vehicles, so bicyclists must follow the rules of the road as other motorists do. Bicyclists must ride with traffic; ride on the right side of roadways; obey all traffic signs and signals; use signals to turn, slow, and stop; and give pedestrians the right-of-way.
However, given the dimensions of bicycles and the comparatively more vulnerable status of cyclists plying roadways, a few allowances are made.
Bicyclists are afforded the same legal protections on roadways as motor vehicle drivers, but the latter is tasked with giving more consideration and courtesy to bike riders. Bicyclists face more safety risks on the road, given that they have no vehicle structure protecting them and are more difficult to spot in moving traffic. The law also takes into consideration that bicyclists tend to be younger and can thus lack roadway skills and a broader knowledge of traffic laws.
The Alaska Statutes also account for the versatility of bicycling. Before traffic signs indicate that no right, no left, or no U-turn is allowed, persons operating a bicycle cannot disobey those directions—unless they first pull up to the extreme right or to the shoulder of the road, dismount from their bike, and move as a pedestrian.
No points are assessed for traffic violations when using a bicycle.
Riding on Roadways and Bike Paths
Bicycles can ride in the lane, must ride in the same direction as traffic, and must be extra alert to the other vehicles they share the road with. Persons riding a bicycle on a public road must ride as close to the right side of the road as is practicable and reasonably possible, exercising vigilance, especially as they near the normal wheel paths of motor vehicles. Bicycle riders must yield to a motor vehicle traveling in the same direction when the driver makes an audible signal, like a horn honk.
A bicyclist can use the shoulder of the highway—but the Alaska Statutes stress that this is also not a requirement and the shoulder must be deemed in good condition. Gravel and debris on the shoulder can pose a danger to bike riders, so using the roadway’s shoulder is the prerogative of the bicyclist. Some roadways have a separate path, but bicyclists are not required to use those either.
Road Prohibitions for Bicycles
Bicycles are prohibited from riding more than two abreast, except on designated bike paths and parts of roadways marked for the exclusive use of bicycles. When riding in a group, it is essential to stay in a compact formation to minimize the impact on traffic flow and allow motorists to pass with ease.
When riding on multi-use trails, bicyclists must also be mindful of other trail users, such as pedestrians, runners, and other cyclists.
When riding on sidewalks, bicyclists must always yield the right-of-way to pedestrians. When overtaking people who are on foot, bicyclists must give them an audible signal and give them ample space while passing. Cyclists, however, are not allowed to ride their bicycles on a sidewalk in a business district or any sidewalk marked by an official traffic-control device as prohibited for bikes.
Some roads specifically prohibit bicycle riders due to increased safety risks. Examples are Airport Way, the Johansen Expressway, and the Steese Expressway between Airport Way and Trainor Gate. Clear signs saying “Pedestrians and Bicycles Prohibited” are erected on these roads, and bicycle riders must use a parallel route, an adjacent path facility, or any alternate route that allows bicycles.
Regulated Biking Etiquette for Alaska Cyclists
Bicyclists must be extra conspicuous on the roads. Maintain a reasonable speed, keep to the right, and use a bell or verbal warning to alert others when passing. The Alaska Statutes have also regulated the following points of biking etiquette to maintain order and safety:
When turning left, operators of bicycles must continuously give a signal by hand and arm during the last 100 feet traveled unless they need a hand to control their bike. If their progress to the turn is paused, cyclists must still continuously use a hand and arm signal. This predictable behavior allows motorists to anticipate a bicyclist's movements and helps prevent accidents.
Bicyclists riding on a highway are not allowed to carry or transport another person on their bike if their bike is built for just one rider. Exceptions are made for bicycles equipped with a passenger seat and for adult riders carrying a child securely attached to them through a sling or in a backpack.
Bicycle operators are not allowed to attach themselves or their bicycles to a motor vehicle for towing or pulling.
Bicycle operators must also be mindful of where they park their rides, taking care not to obstruct pedestrian paths or passing motor vehicles. Cyclists are also prohibited from securing their bikes to public utility facilities, including fire hydrants, police and fire call boxes, electric traffic signal poles, stanchions or poles located in bus zones or stands, and stanchions or poles within 25 feet of an intersection. Cyclists are also not allowed to secure their bikes to trees under 10 inches in diameter.
Bicyclist Safety Gear and Bike Equipment
There is no bicycle helmet law that applies statewide, though some metros abide by their own ordinances for bicycle headgear, so it is always best to check local regulations. For example, in Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, it is mandatory for bicyclists 15 years old and younger to wear a helmet when riding their bike in public places, like streets, sidewalks, trails and pathways, parking lots, and skate parks. According to the city ordinance, failure to wear protective headgear is considered a traffic violation, and the first offense results in a warning. Subsequent offenses impose a fine of $25, but this fine may be waived if the bicyclist presents proof to the Anchorage Police Department that a bicycle helmet has been obtained.
Bicycles themselves, however, must be equipped with safety equipment under statewide statutes. At least one light, emitting white light for at least 500 feet, must be mounted on the front of the bicycle. Bikes must use their headlights at night and in other low-light conditions, like low-visibility weather. They must also have a tail light that emits a red light visible at least 500 feet to the rear.
All bicycles must have a red reflector on their rear and reflective material visible from their sides. If bicycle operators want to exercise extra caution, the Alaska Statutes are explicit in stating that they can use additional reflectors or reflective materials.
Bicyclists must keep at least one hand on the handlebars of their bikes at all times. Bikes must also maintain a brake system in good working condition. The law considers brakes in proper operation if they allow the rider to stop the bicycle within 25 feet of a speed of 10mph on dry, clean, and level pavement.
Is Alaska a No-Fault State for Bike Accidents?
No. Alaska is a fault state or “tort state” for bicycle accidents and other motor vehicle crashes, which means that the party responsible for the collision is liable for paying for the injuries and property damage sustained by the victim. This system usually translates to the at-fault party’s insurance paying for the losses of the bicycle rider.
Because of the greater vulnerability of bicyclists on the road, the losses they suffer in the aftermath of a collision tend to be greater and require more financial recovery.
Because Alaska is a fault state, this also means that in addition to being able to get compensation through claims against the at-fault driver’s insurance carrier, bicycle accident victims can also file a personal injury lawsuit in civil court.
How Much Can Someone Sue for a Bicycle Accident in Alaska?
The amount of damages a bicycle accident plaintiff can secure from an at-fault party varies greatly, as compensation is computed depending on the severity of the accident. Under personal injury claims, Alaska sets no cap or limit on economic damages like healthcare costs and property damage reimbursements, so a plaintiff can theoretically recover his or her financial losses in full.
However, non-economic damages—pain and suffering, inconvenience, physical impairment, disfigurement, loss of enjoyment of life, and loss of consortium—are capped in personal injury lawsuits. Awards may not exceed $400,000 or the injured person's life expectancy in years multiplied by $8,000, whichever is greater. For severe permanent physical impairment or severe disfigurement, damages are capped at $1,000,000 or the person's life expectancy in years multiplied by $25,000, whichever is greater.
What Is Alaska’s Statute of Limitations for Bicycle Accidents?
Alaska has a two-year deadline or statute of limitations for bicycle accident victims to file a lawsuit against an at-fault party. The clock starts running from the date of the accident. Exceeding the statute typically makes a personal injury lawsuit time-barred, meaning a case will not be heard and the victim will not be eligible to pursue damages. This immediacy of this deadline, on top of the complexities of proving fault and recovering financial compensation, is usually what compels bicycle accident victims to seek the counsel of personal injury attorneys.
Legal Resources for Alaska Bicycle Accident Victims
The Alaska State Bar maintains a Lawyer Referral Service where bicycle accident victims can look through a directory of experienced and qualified attorneys in good standing with the Bar who can provide legal counsel and representation. Site users are connected to a service assistant who will help them narrow down their attorney search to up to three lawyers that will typically handle the legal problems they have outlined. Lawyers who sign up to be on the Lawyer Referral Service will charge no more than $125 for the first half-hour of consultation.
Alaska Free Legal Answers is a virtual legal advice clinic in which qualifying users post civil legal questions at no cost to be answered by licensed pro bono attorneys via email. Relevant questions and topics for bicycle accident victims are financial laws, consumer rights, and disability laws. The Free Legal Answers website network is maintained by the American Bar Association.
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