Traffic Laws Amended to Address Cyclist Safety and Shared Use of the Roads

I wrote a post last January about proposed changes to the state’s traffic laws to address bicyclist safety and shared use of the roads by motorists and bicyclists.  I am still smarting from the on-line comments and emails I received as a result. (Before you click on the link and join the chorus, I should clarify that I foolishly used a bit of literary license in that earlier post. I’m not actually hostile to cyclists who pass motor vehicles at a stop light.) Now that the legislature has amended the traffic laws to address these issues, I am reticently returning to the topic to describe those changes. But I’ve learned my lesson. The rest of this post will be strictly the facts.

S.L. 2016-90 (H 959) enacts three significant amendments related to bicycling safety and sharing the road.

1. A bicycle operated at night must be equipped with a red rear light or the cyclist must wear a reflective vest.

G.S. 20-129(e) already requires that bicycles ridden at night have a lighted front lamp visible from at least 300 feet and a reflex mirror or lamp on the back, visible from at least 200 feet.  Effective December 1, 2016, bicycles operated at night on a public street, public vehicular area, or public greenway must have:

  • A lighted lamp on the front, visible from at least 300 feet in front of the bicycle;
  • A reflex mirror on the rear; and
  • A lighted lamp on the rear, visible from at least 300 feet to the rear of the bicycle or the operator must wear clothing or a vest that is bright and visible from a distance of at least 300 feet to the rear of the bicycle.


2. Motorists may pass bicycles in no passing zones.

G.S. 20-150(e) states that a driver may not pass another vehicle on any portion of a road that is marked by DOT to indicate that passing is not permitted. As a result, drivers of motor vehicles may not lawfully pass cyclists on a no-passing section of the roadway even when there is sufficient clearance to do so.

Effective October 1, 2016, the prohibition against passing does not apply if each of the following conditions is satisfied:

  • The slower moving vehicle to be passed is a bicycle or moped;
  • The slower moving vehicle is proceeding in the same direction as the faster moving vehicle;
  • The driver of the faster moving vehicle either (i) provides a minimum of four feet between the faster moving vehicle and the slower moving vehicle or (ii) completely enters the left lane of the highway; and
  • The operator of the slower moving vehicle is not (i) making a left turn or (ii) signaling in accordance with G.S. 20-154 that he or she intends to make a left turn.


3. Unsafe movement that affects a bicyclist is subject to stiffer penalties

G.S. 20-154 was amended in 2013 to impose increased fines for violations of G.S. 20-154(a) (failure to first see that movement can be safely made or failure to signal) that affect motorcycle operators. These types of violations are commonly referred to as unsafe movement. Effective October 1, 2016, those provisions also will apply to motorists whose unsafe movement affects bicyclists. As a result:

    • Unsafe movement that causes a bicycle operator to change travel lanes or leave the road is an infraction subject to a fine of not less than $200.
    • Unsafe movement that results in a crash causing property damage or personal injury to a bicycle operator or passenger is an infraction subject to a fine of at least $500.
    • Unsafe movement that results in a crash causing property damage of more than $5,000 or serious bodily injury to a bicycle operator or passenger is an infraction subject to a fine of at least $750. DMV must treat the violation as a failure to yield the right-of-way to a bicycle under G.S. 20-16(c), which results in the assessment of four driver’s license points. In addition, the trial judge may suspend the offender’s driver’s license for up to 30 days.
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