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Summary of Bicycle-Related Laws for Austin & Texas

Our Traffic Laws pages:

Austin & Texas (summary)

Austin (detailed)

Texas, Bikes (detailed)

Texas, Motorists (detailed)

Helmet Laws

Cyclists' right to the road handout

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.

Austin-Specific Laws

Here's a link to the website of the official City of Austin ordinances.

For bikes

  • Helmet Laws. Austin's helmet ordinance was amended so that now only children (17 & under) are required to wear helmets. Here's more on the Austin helmet ordinance. The proposed statewide helmet law died in the 1999 Texas Legislature.

  • Can't ride on certain sidewalks. Riding on the sidewalk is prohibited here:

    (1)     100-1100 blocks of Congress Avenue;
    (2)     1900-2500 blocks of Guadalupe Street;
    (3)     100-1100 blocks of Brazos Street;
    (4)     200-1100 blocks of Colorado Street;
    (5)     from the 200 block of West 2nd to the 300 block of East 2nd Street;
    (6)     from the 900 block of West 5th to the 800 block of East 5th Street;
    (7)     from the 700 block of East 6th Street to the 1000 block of West 6th Street;
    (8)     from the 100 block of West 8th Street to the 200 block of East 8th Street;
    (9)     from the 100 block of West 9th Street to the 200 block of East 9th Street;
    (10)     from the 200 block of West 11th Street to the 200 block of East 11th Street; and
    (11)     from the 200 block of West 15th Street to the 200 block of East 15th Street. (Ord. 020418-39)

  • Special UT rules. The University of Texas has some special rules for cycling on campus.

  • Bike rides require permit. Athletic events using the streets require a street event permit.

For cars

  • 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 enacted.

    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]

Texas-Specific Laws

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 as noted.

For bikes

  • 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. 551.101)

    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. 551.104)

  • 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 traffic (a)
    • 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. 551.102)

  • 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. 545.107)
  • Bikes can park on the sidewalk. Bikes can park on the sidewalk as long as they don't obstruct pedestrian traffic. (Sec. 545.302)

For cars

All the following are from the Texas Penal 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. 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. (Sec. 22.01)
  • 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 - 49.09)
  • 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 - 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. 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 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!

University 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.

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