Summary of Bicycle-Related Laws for Austin
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
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
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 as noted.
- 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.
- 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
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.
- 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.
- Three-abreast is never legal,
unless you're on part of a roadway designed for bikes only. (Sec.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
All the following are from the Texas
Code, except for Reckless Driving, which is from the Transportation
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.
- Reckless Driving.
Driving with a willful disregard for the safety of people or
property is reckless driving. (Sec.
- A threat of harm is an Assault.
- Trying to hurt someone could be
Attempted Murder or Attempted Assault. (Sec.
- 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.
- Attempted Murder. Trying to hurt or kill someone
is a crime even if the victim doesn't actually die. (Sec.
- 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 - 49.09)
- Killing or injuring someone with a
car is one of the following crimes:
- Assault: Class C Misdemeanor, $500 (Sec.
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 - 49.09)
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.
- Manslaughter (recklessly caused death): 2nd Degree
Felony, 2-20 years in jail (Sec.
- Intoxication Manslaughter (DWI): 2nd Degree Felony,
2-20 years in jail (Sec. 49.04 -
- 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 wrote:
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!
of Texas-Specific Laws
- 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.