Summary of Bicycle-Related Laws for Austin & Texas
We're not lawyers,
so nothing on this
site should be construed as legal advice. If you want real legal
opinion, contact an attorney.
The NHTSA has compiled a Resource Guide on Laws Related to Pedestrian and
Bicycle Safety which will be very useful to planners and lawmakers.
Here's a link to the website of the official City
of Austin ordinances.
- Cars can park in many bike lanes
in Austin. Until the late 1990's, it was legal for
cars to park in most bike lanes in the City. That's been slowing
changing, as the City has been quietly banning parking from some bike
lanes, one roadway at a time (or at least putting some restrictions on
parking). Streets where cars have been kicked out of the bike lanes
include Duval St. and Shoal Creek Blvd. Also, the City often stripes in
new bike lanes whenever it's doing routine resurfacing of a street
anyway, and parking is generally prohibited from those bike lanes. (In
any event, we have a hard time deciding which is worse: that it's LEGAL
for cars to park in many bike lanes, or that people will arrogantly
park in them just because they can.) Check our Roadways
section to see news about parking bans on various roadways as they're
If you see cars illegally parked in a bike lane, you can call
the police Traffic division at 974-5789 (or after hours, the
police non-emergency number: 311). Also, here's a PDF of some "tickets" you
can put on the windshields of cars parked in bike lanes. And here are some additional restrictions on parking
in general. If there's debris or potholes in the bike lanes,
call the Bike Program at 505-5606 to report it.
- Cars can't park on sidewalks.
[text of the law]
- Cars must yield to bikes when
turning across a bike lane. You might think is a no-brainer,
but since a local police
officer tried to tell a cyclist that it was legal for a car to cut her
off in the bike lane, we thought we should include this. [text of the law]
The official text of state laws is available on the Texas
Statutes website. You can look up proposed statewide
laws (bills) on the Texas Legislature
website. You can look up U.S. Congress bills on the U.S. Congress website.
Citations below are from the Texas Transportation Code except
- Definition of "bicycle".
State law says that a bicycle has two tandem wheels. So
theoretically, a trike would not be a bicycle because its wheels are
not in tandem. Electric bicycles are considered bicycles and are not
required to be registered. To be considered an electric bike and not a
motorcycle, the bike must not be able to go more than 20mph without
human power, and must weigh no more than 100 lbs. (Sec. 502.0075 and Sec. 541.201)
- Rights & Duties.
Cyclists generally have the same rights and responsibilities as
motorists. That means you have the right to ride on any roadway (unless
prohibited by a specific local ordinance), and you have to follow all
the same traffic laws as motorists. (Sec.
Incidentally, at least one state (Idaho) allows bicycles to simply slow
down instead of stop at Stop signs. Here's a link to the State
of Idaho statute about that.
- Front light required at night.
You must have a solid white headlight visible for at least 500 feet.
Technically, blinker lights don't count because (1) they're not solid
(they blink) and (2) they're not white (they're either yellow/green or
red). However, cops almost never enforce this law in Austin. There's no
requirement for a rear light, although you have to have a rear red
reflector. However, just because it's not required doesn't mean you
should blow off getting a rear light if you bike at night (unless you
want to be invisible to motorists). Here's information about styles of lights. (Sec.
- Where in the lane to ride.
(Sec. 551.103) You have to ride
as far to the right as is "practicable". Of course, many of us feel
that cars whizzing by us in the same lane is dangerous and thus it's
more "practicable" to take the whole lane in such cases, but that's for
the court to decide if you use that defense. There are exceptions when
you don't have to ride to the right:
- when the outside lane is too small to fit a car and
bike side by side, or is less than 14 feet wide (4)
- when there are hazards in your way (dead animals,
potholes, etc.) (3)
- when you're passing a slower-moving vehicle (1)
- when you're going at least as fast as surrounding
- when you're preparing to make a left-hand turn (2)
- when you're on a one-way street (in that case, you can
ride to the far left instead of the far right) (b)
- It's perfectly fine to ride on a paved shoulder. (Sec. 545.058)
- Two-abreast OK. You can
ride two-abreast as long as you
don't "impede the normal and reasonable flow of traffic", and as long
as both bikes are in the same lane. Otherwise, you're expected to ride
single-file. (Sec. 551.103)
- Three-abreast is never legal,
unless you're on part of a roadway designed for bikes only. (Sec. 551.103)
- Blocking Traffic. You
can't make passage of traffic "unreasonably inconvenient". (TX Penal
Code, Sec. 42.03)
- Must have working brakes.
Your bike must have at least one brake that works in good condition. (Sec. 551.104)
- Riding Position. You
have to have one leg on either side of your seat. (Yes, that means that
state law actually prohibits you from standing up and leaning too far
forward!) This also nixes bike surfing. (Sec.
- Number of Riders. You
can't have more people on the bike than the number the bicycle is
designed or equipped to carry. (Sounds like THAT is subject to
interpretation.) (Sec. 551.102)
- Riding with no hands.
You can ride with no hands as long as one hand is free to grab the
handlebar in an emergency. (That is, you can't carry a package that
needs two hands to hold.) (Sec. 551.102)
- No hitching rides. You
can't hitch rides by holding onto a car or truck as it starts moving. (Sec. 551.102)
- Signaling. You have to
signal turns. Left arm out left for a left-hand turn, right arm out
right for a right-hand turn. (Sec.
545.107) You can also signal a right-hand turn with your
left arm like this:
- Signal a Stop like the right-hand turn above, except point
your hand down instead of up. (Sec.
- Bikes can park on the sidewalk.
Bikes can park on the sidewalk as long as they don't obstruct
pedestrian traffic. (Sec. 545.302)
All the following are from the Texas
Penal Code, except for Reckless Driving, which is from the
Code. All the crimes listed below are misdemeanors,
except for Intoxication Assault and crimes which result in a death,
which are felonies.
- Recklessness which could hurt
someone is Deadly Conduct. (Sec. 22.05)
- Reckless Driving.
Driving with a willful disregard for the safety of people or property
is reckless driving. (Sec. 545.401)
- A threat of harm is an Assault.
- Trying to hurt someone could be
Attempted Murder or Attempted Assault. (Sec. 15.01)
- Injuring someone with a car could
be one of the following crimes:
- Assault. If it's intentional, then it's assault.
Even THREATENED harm counts as assault. Theoretically, it can be
assault if it's merely "reckless" and not "intentional", but our
impression is that Assault charges are generally reserved for
intentional acts. (Sec. 22.01)
Theoretically, assault with a car could be considered assault with a
deadly weapon (Aggravated Assault, Sec.
22.02), but you'd have to convince the judge or jury. Also, I
didn't see the penalty listed for Aggravated Assault in the Penal Code.)
- Intoxication Assault (Sec.
49.04 - 49.09)
- Attempted Murder. Trying to hurt or kill someone
is a crime even if the victim doesn't actually die. (Sec. 15.01)
- Intoxication Offenses.
The penalties are stiff for driving while intoxicated, another DWI when
you've already been convicted of DWI before, injuring someone when DWI,
or killing someone when DWI. (Sec. 49.04 -
- Killing or injuring someone with a
car is one of the following crimes:
- Assault: Class C Misdemeanor, $500 (Sec. 22.01)
Aggravated Assault: [couldn't locate the penalty for
this crime](Sec. 22.02)
Intoxication Assault (injury caused by drinking): 3rd
Degree Felony, 2-10 years in jail (Sec. 49.04
Attempted Murder (crime of passion): 3rd Degree
Felony, 2-10 years in jail (Sec. 15.01)
- Attempted Murder (premeditated): 2nd Degree Felony,
2-20 years in jail (Sec. 15.01)
- Criminally Negligent Homicide (accidentally killed
someone): State Jail Felony, 180 days-2 years in jail (most logical charge for at-fault motorists
accidentally killing cyclists, other than DWI) (Sec. 19)
- Manslaughter (recklessly caused death): 2nd Degree
Felony, 2-20 years in jail (Sec. 19)
- Intoxication Manslaughter (DWI): 2nd Degree Felony,
2-20 years in jail (Sec. 49.04 - 49.09)
- Murder (crime of passion): 2nd Degree Felony, 2-20
years in jail (Sec. 19)
Murder (premeditated): 1st Degree Felony, 5-99 years
in jail (Sec. 19)
A cyclist who seems to know what he's talking about
There is an "In Presence Requirement" in the State of
Texas (and probably other states) which requires that a police officer
can not arrest someone for a misdemeanor unless the officer actually
sees the crime occur. (Before you panic, felony cases are different;
the police needs only probable cause to make a felony arrest.)
Otherwise the officer must have a warrant, which he/she can only get
with your complaint to a magistrate (judge), or his affidavit for a
warrant. This is still no excuse for not investigating the incident.
The police should still investigate, get all the information and
evidence needed for a complaint, and assist the victim through the
complaint process. The police should take witness statements,
photograph the crime scene, identify the vehicle (photos),and obtain
the suspect's statement, if he cooperated ;-) Sometimes you have to
push the police, prosecuting attorneys, and magistrates into filing the
charges. Be Persistent! Be Demanding!
- No Riding on the Sidewalks.
- UT regulations prohibit cyclists from riding on the
sidewalks on campus. Lots of people do it anyway, and the cops are
inconsistent about their enforcement of the issue. Rules aside, given
the very high pedestrian traffic on campus, and the higher percentage
of pedestrians using wheelchairs, if you choose to ride on the sidewalk
on campus, do so slowly and carefully.
- Bicycle Stings.
- Campus cops have been known to set up sting operations
for cyclists, targeting them for the same infraction all day at a
particular intersection (such as failing to stop completely or failing
to signal), while ignoring cars at the same intersection which break
the same rules that they're targeting bikes for. Hot spots for stings
include Speedway at 21st, 26th, & 30th; and 26th & Whitis.
- Cyclists must use racks.
- UT rules require you to park only on racks, and not on
handrails on stairs or wheelchair ramps. If you park on a handrail on a
stair or wheelchair ramp, campus cops can cut the lock off your bike
and impound it, and they don't have to reimburse you for the cost of
your lock. Their wording about parking on traffic signs is listed after
the part about not parking on handrails and the part about cutting your
lock if you do so, so it's not clear whether parking on street signs is
prohibited, but UTPD at least discourages it
because they say bikes are easier to steal from traffic signs. Once I
parked on a tree because the bike rack was full, and I came back to
discover that they had locked my bike with a SECOND lock; I had to go
get an authority figure to unlock my bike while listening to him
chastise me for parking on the tree. Here's the wording of the parking rule on UT's site.
- Bicycle Registration.
- Although UT Police Dept. (UTPD) requires that all students
register their bikes, most don't do so. The "registration" process
entails the police hammering your driver's license number into the
space under your bike's bottom bracket. They register bikes on
Wednesdays in front of Gregory Gym from 9am-5pm. Cops claim they want
you to register your bike so that they'll know who to return it to in
case it's stolen and recovered. They also say that 350 bikes are
reported stolen from campus each year, and that registered bikes are
much less likely to be targeted by thieves. While all this may be true,
the benefit to the POLICE for your registering your bike is that if
they catch you rolling through a stop sign without putting your foot
down or biking on the sidewalk, if you're not carrying any ID, they can
just flip your bike over and read the number to find out who you are --
especially when they're doing a bicycle sting operation (see above). By
the way, while the police chastise people about not registering their
bikes and say that many of the 350 bikes stolen per year could have
been reunited with their owners, for some reason they fail to mention
what % of recovered bikes were registered, and what percentage of those
bikes they were able to return to their owners. UTPD's web site says
that unclaimed bikes are auctioned off, but as of the date of this
writing (7-6-98), their site contained absolutely no information about
where, when, or how the auctions take place. Here's a link to the bicycle registration
section of UTPD's web site.