Wisconsin State Bike Laws

Bicycle accidents are often overlooked in comparison to car accidents and truck crashes. But according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, a bicyclist is killed or injured approximately every 9.7 hours on the state’s roadways. Altogether, that is more than 1,000 crashes per year. And while there may be fewer overall bicycle accidents, bicyclists are more exposed than someone driving a motor vehicle. Indeed, the Department of Transportation noted that bicyclists “are almost always injured in a collision also involving a motor vehicle.”

What Are My Rights as a Bicyclist?

But just because bicycles are at a disadvantage when pitted up against a car or truck, that does not excuse irresponsible driving on the bicyclist’s part. Remember, a bicycle is considered a “vehicle” under Wisconsin traffic laws. This means that as a bicyclist, you must obey the same rules of the road as any other vehicle. Conversely, you also have the same rights as any motorist.

Of course, many bicyclists do not travel as fast as cars. Wisconsin law therefore requires anyone operating a bicycle on a public roadway “at less than the normal speed of traffic” for that time of day to ride “as close as practicable to the right-hand edge or curb” of the road. This is only a general rule, however, and the bicyclist is allowed to reenter the main part of the lane to overtake another vehicle traveling in the same direction, to prepare for a left turn or U-turn, or to avoid a hazard or “unsafe condition” on the right-hand side.

Bicyclists should always stay on roadways or specially designated bicycle paths where available. You should never ride a bicycle on a sidewalk unless it is expressly permitted by local laws. In Appleton, for example, the City does have an ordinance that permits bicyclists to use most public sidewalks so long as they exercise “due care.”

But according to a recent report by the Appleton Post-Crescent, this ordinance does not apply to “sidewalks on College Avenue between Drew Street and Badger Avenue.” Local police have issued at least 42 citations this year for bicyclists who rode on those prohibited sidewalks. Appleton Police Department policy is to issue written warnings for each such violation, which carry fines of between $20 and $162.70.

Can I Ride Double-File?

Bicycling is a popular group activity. Riding double-file–or “2 abreast”–often helps reduce the risk of serious car accidents by deterring motor vehicles from attempting to make unsafe pass attempts. And overall, when multiple bicyclists operate as a group, they are simply more visible to traffic. For this reason, riding 2 abreast is legal on Wisconsin roadways so long as it does not “impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic” and both riders stay in a single lane when traveling on a two-lane road.
But as with single riders, double-file riders must stay “as close as practicable” to the right-hand side of the road, except as discussed above. Nor is it legal for bicyclists to ride in groups of more than 2 abreast–i.e., no riding triple-file–on public roads, although it is permissible on designated bicycle paths.

Do I Need to Use Hand Signals?

Since most bicycles lack automated turn signals or “signal lamps,” state law does require bicyclists to use generally accepted hand signals to indicate a turn or stop. Here is a brief reminder of those hand signals: in Hand and arm extended horizontally – bicyclist is making a left-hand turn or U-turn
Hand and arm are extended upward – bicyclist is making a right-hand turn
Hand and arm are extended downward – bicyclist is making a stop or decreasing speed
Any bicyclist who fails to give a proper turn signal may be cited by local law enforcement and fined $20.

Do I Need to Wear a Helmet?

It is always a good idea to wear a helmet when operating a bicycle, especially on public roads. According to the Department of Transportation, helmet use “can eliminate 85 percent of head injuries when crashes do occur.” That said, there is no state law that mandates bicycle helmets for either adults or children. At least one Wisconsin city–Port Washington–has its own municipal ordinance requiring children under the age of 16 to wear bicycle helmets. You should check with your local police department to see if there are any similar rules in place for your city or town.

Get Help From a Qualified Appleton Bike Accident Attorney

Negligent motorists often try to blame bicyclists for accidents. That is why it is critical for all bicyclists to understand and follow state bike laws in Appleton, Green Bay and all throughout Wisconsin. And if you are in a serious bicycle accident, you need to work with an experienced bicycle accident lawyer in Wisconsin who will zealously defend your interests. Contact the injury lawyers at Hammett, Bellin & Oswald, LLC today if you have been injured and would like to schedule an initial consultation with our office.