The Tar Heel State has been working to provide safer riding areas for bicyclists. This is in response to North Carolina's expanding urban population.
To reduce traffic congestion and pollution, the North Carolina Department of Transportation is promoting biking as an alternative mode of transportation.
One challenge that the NCDOT must overcome is the public’s view that cycling is unsafe in North Carolina. The state’s crash statistics support this perception. In a survey in 2011, the majority of the respondents rated North Carolina's bicycle facilities as below average or poor.
Since 2013, however, the state has made strides toward reversing the problem. It has adopted a bicycle and pedestrian plan known as WalkBikeNC. Through this initiative, North Carolina has created more communities that are bicycle-friendly.
WalkBikeNC involves improving bicycle infrastructure and enacting road safety regulations. It also includes educating cyclists on safe riding practices.
This article lists some of the laws that apply to bicyclists in North Carolina. These include how riders should behave on the road and what they should do in the event of an accident. This information is especially important when a crash involves injuries and fatalities, and victims seek to recover damages.
North Carolina Bicycle Equipment Laws
Lights and Reflectors
According to the NCDOT, around 200 bicyclists and pedestrians die in accidents with automobiles each year. The first step to preventing this is making sure that bicycles are visible on the road.
Thus, North Carolina law requires bicycles to have the following equipment:
Front lamp: It must be switched on at night and visible from at least 300 feet away.
Rear lamp: It must emit a red light that other drivers can see from a distance of at least 300 feet.
Safety vest or clothing: The rider can wear this if no rear light is available, as long as the material is bright enough to be seen from at least 300 feet away.
Helmet and Restraining Seat
Bicyclists younger than 16 years old are required to wear helmets while riding in North Carolina.
It is critical to follow the helmet rule to protect vulnerable riders. According to NCDOT, one in six bicyclists killed in North Carolina each year is under 16.
In addition to helmets, cyclists must also be equipped with a proper seat if they are to carry a passenger aged 16 and below. The seat must meet the following criteria:
It allows the passenger to sit in an upright position.
It is fitted with a child restraint system for use by passengers who are less than 3 feet tall and weigh less than 40 pounds.
Parents who let their children ride a bicycle without a helmet and a proper seat may face a fine of up to $10.
North Carolina Bicycle Roadway Laws
Riding a bicycle is allowed on all public roadways in North Carolina, except restricted access highways and other roadways where bicycles are not permitted.
When riding, cyclists are required to follow the flow of traffic. They must travel in the right-hand lane and as close as possible to the right shoulder of the road. But they have the right to use a full lane marked for bicycles.
Whether bicyclists are allowed to ride on sidewalks varies by municipality. Generally, bicycling on sidewalks is permitted unless there are ordinances that prohibit it. Another caveat is that bicyclists must ride on sidewalks with caution and give way to pedestrians.
North Carolina Bicycle Speed and Overtaking Laws
North Carolina General Statute Section 20-140 prohibits reckless driving. So, bicyclists must not ride faster than is reasonable and prudent.
Operating a bicycle at a speed that could harm other road users can lead to reckless driving charges.
Thus, bicyclists must always ride at a speed that allows them to maintain control of their vehicles.
They must also exercise due care when overtaking a motor vehicle on a roadway. Riders may not pass a motor vehicle on the right unless the motor vehicle could lawfully undertake a similar maneuver.
North Carolina Bicycle Traffic Controls and Signals
Bicyclists in North Carolina are required to follow the same laws on stop signs, red lights, pedestrian right-of-way, and using turn signals as motor vehicle drivers.
If you are riding in North Carolina, keep in mind the following rules outlined in G.S. Sections 20-142, 20-154, and 20-158:
Stop completely at a stop sign and give way before proceeding.
Stop when approaching a red light that is solid or flashing. Proceed or turn right only after giving way to other cars and pedestrians.
Stop at the stop bar marked in the street before going through a marked crosswalk or before the intersection with the nearest street.
Stop at a yellow light. If this is not possible, proceed through the junction quickly and carefully. If the yellow light is blinking, approach the intersection with caution.
Signal your intention to turn or stop at least 100 feet before the intended movement. You may use an electrical, mechanical, or manual signal. To alert pedestrians, use a sound signal that is sufficiently audible.
Use the left arm for manual signals:
Left turn: hand and arm horizontal, forefinger pointing
Right turn: hand and arm pointed upward at a 90-degree angle
Stop: hand and arm pointed downward at a 90-degree angle
Refrain from passing through, around, or under a closed or opening railroad gate or barrier.
Respect and obey one-way signs. Do not ride against the flow of traffic on one-way streets.
North Carolina Impaired Bicycling Laws
Since 2006, it has been illegal to ride a bicycle in North Carolina while impaired by alcohol or drugs. According to G.S. Section 120-138.1, riding with an alcohol concentration of 0.08 can result in a DWI charge. If a cyclist tests positive for a Schedule 1 controlled substance, as listed in G.S. Section 90-89, he can also be guilty of DWI.
The offense is punishable by a jail term, a fine, and even the suspension of driving privileges. If a bicycle rather than a motor vehicle committed the violation, the rider can still have a criminal record for DWI.
North Carolina Is an At-Fault State for Bicycle Accidents
Bicyclists who are injured in a crash in North Carolina can claim compensation from the party that caused the accident.
However, bicycle accident victims cannot recover damages if they are partially at fault. This is the rule under North Carolina's pure contributory negligence law. So, no matter the degree of a victim’s liability – even if it is just 1% – they cannot pursue damages.
This is why insurance companies often attempt to lay the blame on the victim. If you are hurt in a bicycle crash in North Carolina, it is recommended that you seek legal advice. A bicycle accident attorney can help you prove that the other party was wholly at fault, so you can collect compensation.
How Much Can Someone Sue for a Bicycle Accident in North Carolina?
There is no cap on economic damages in personal injury claims in North Carolina.
Bicycle crash victims can recover costs for property damage or loss, medical treatment, lost wages, future lost earnings, funeral expenses if the victim dies, and other expenses related to the accident. Non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering and emotional distress, are also recoverable.
The judge may impose punitive damages on the defendant for criminal or inexcusable conduct. But the amount cannot exceed $250,000 or 300% of any compensatory damages awarded to the plaintiff, whichever is higher.
North Carolina Statute of Limitations for Bicycle Accident Cases
North Carolina injury victims have three years from the date of the accident to bring a lawsuit against the at-fault parties.
If this deadline passes without a case being filed, the court will bar any claims outside the time limit.
In certain instances, the period for filing a lawsuit may be shorter or longer than three years. For example, if the victim dies from his or her bicycle accident injuries, surviving family members have two years from the date of their loved one’s death to file a wrongful death suit.
If a crash was due to defective bicycle parts, the plaintiff also has three years from the date of the injury to file a product liability suit. But, under G.S. Section 1-46.1, the court may dismiss any lawsuit brought more than 12 years after the initial purchase of the defective product.
If you are injured in a bicycle crash, a lawyer can discuss the deadline that applies to your case. Timely legal advice can help you file a claim for compensation within the prescribed period.
Legal Resources for Bicycle Accident Victims in North Carolina
The BL Foundation advocates for the rights and safety of all cyclists, from commuters to advanced riders. Its website connects riders with attorneys who provide legal representation for cyclists injured in accidents. Riders who wish to report a bicycle crash can submit the details on an online form available on the site. Its blog page contains excerpts from Ann Groninger’s book on North Carolina bicycle laws, “NC Ride Guide 2020.”
Through its website, BikeWalkNC, a statewide advocacy group for bicyclists and pedestrians, reaches out to its target community. It is a source of news about bicycling in North Carolina and has a page dedicated to the state’s bicycling laws and a list of education resources for bicyclists. BikeWalkNC comprises local cycling clubs, like Bike Durham, Boone Area Cyclists, and Bicycling in Greensboro. They advocate for the safety and rights of cyclists and participate in Annual Rides of Silence in support of bicycle accident victims.
The NCDOT supports the state government’s zero-death target for North Carolina roadways. Its page on bicycle safety provides a link to state legislation that affects bicyclists. Riders who wish to contact NCDOT may do so using the messaging tools available on the site. They can also call 919-707-2600.
Individuals looking for bicycle accident lawyers can find help on the state bar’s website. It has a search tool for locating certified attorneys that can represent injury victims. There is also an online form that clients can use to file a complaint against an erring North Carolina lawyer. A separate page is dedicated to resolving disputes over lawyers’ fees.
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