There are many bike laws in Delaware to keep in mind when cycling around this state and many of them are to keep the safety of the cyclist in mind, particularly around other motorists. Delaware is also one of the states that was an early adopter of electric bike laws, with the legislation signed as early as 2014. Delaware has also been passing spates of legislation around bikes, riders, and what sorts of rules and obligations they must follow. Therefore, it’s important to keep track of the bike laws in Delaware because there could be something new every so often!
Bikes and Cars
Right off the bat, we have a difference between the way Delaware handles cyclists and the way other states handle them. In Delaware, bikes are not necessarily considered vehicles and in fact are lumped under a separate chapter of the law around traffic. (Chapter 41. Rules of the Road. Subchapter XII: Operation of Bicycles and other Human-Powered Vehicles; Operation of Electric Personal Assistive Mobility Devices). They are considered the same as things like electric assistive vehicles (such as e-bikes and electric scooters), but they are not given the same duties and obligations as drivers of cars. This alone means you have some different things to consider when riding versus driving.
However, the DMV in Delaware considers them to have the same rules and obligations as cars, which can be confusing. We would recommend keeping both codes in mind when cycling so that you don’t run into trouble. From here out, we’ll assume that unless something comes up to contradict it, bikes have the same duties as cars for the purposes of riding safely. That way, you’re covered no matter what!
Delaware is more stringent than other states when it comes to the safety of its cyclists when sharing the road with cars. When passing a cyclist, a vehicle driver has the obligation to ensure the safety of the cyclist by doing the following:
- Reduce the speed of the car or other vehicle to a safe speed and leaving a minimum of three feet of clearance while passing a bike.
- Whenever possible (if the road has at least four lanes, with no less than 2 lanes proceeding in the same direction as an approaching vehicle), the driver has the obligation to change lanes to a lane that isn’t right beside the biker! This is a bit unique; many states just have the minimum three feet of clearance and leave it at that.
Cyclists in Delaware are also protected by vulnerable road user laws which means that drivers can get slapped with additional penalties if they are found to have been carelessly driving leading to the injury of a vulnerable user. There’s quite an extensive list of vulnerable users in Delaware actually; not just cyclists, but also people riding animals, skateboard, roller skates, scooters, and pedestrians, as well as mopeds and in-line skates.
Where are Bikes Allowed to Ride in Delaware?
Bikes should, whenever possible, be riding on the right half of the road, with traffic, rather than against it. There are a number of exceptions to this:
- If you have to pass another bike or vehicle going the same way.
- If you’re preparing to make a left turn at an intersection, private road, or driveway.
- If you’re approaching an intersection for right turns and there is a dedicated right turn lane. You can ride here, even if you’re not turning right.
- If you have to avoid bad road conditions.
- If there is a paved shoulder.
- Wherever exclusive bike access has been set up.
- If you’re riding on a one lane highway with two or more marked traffic lanes and a speed lane of less than 30 miles per hour
Otherwise, stay to the right!
Delaware does not force cyclists to use dedicated bike paths or bike routes (though it’s strongly encouraged of course), and you can ride two abreast, but no more than that (unless you’re on one of those dedicated bike paths, assuming it’s wide enough to do it safely). Cyclists can also operate on sidewalks, but they have to make sure to signal to pedestrians before passing and municipal or local law overrides this. For example, if there is a traffic control device which prohibits bike use or if there is a bicycle only lane to use instead of the sidewalk. Otherwise, you can ride on the sidewalks.
The laws also have some strangeness around stop signs (including the fact that some parts of the law can expire!) For example, a cyclist coming up on a stop sign at an intersection with three or more lanes for traffic must come to a complete stop. But if you’re approaching a stop sign at an intersection with a roadway with two or fewer lanes, you must reduce speed and stop only if required for safety reasons (and that one expires in October 2021, probably so that reassessment can happen over whether that caused too many accidents.) So, if it’s all quiet, you can slow down, but not stop as long as the road has two or fewer lanes. You have to yield the right-of-way to any vehicle already in the intersection (which just makes sense, or you could be a road pancake), and if a bike and a vehicle enter the intersection from different roadways, the operator of the vehicle or the bike on the left yields to the one on the right, regardless of whether it’s a bike or a car.
Delaware and Electric Bikes
As mentioned before, Delaware signed some laws around e-bikes relatively early, but these laws are fairly sparse. In Delaware, an electric bike is defined as bike with two or three wheels, operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 759w and a maximum speed of less than 20mph. There are no licensing or registration requirements and anyone under the age of sixteen must wear a helmet. Electric bikes are allowed to ride on any roadway, except those barred to bikes, as well as bike paths.
General Safety Rules
Finally, we have some general safety and equipment rules which Delaware upholds for its cyclists:
- You must have a white headlight visible to five hundred feet, a red rear-reflector visible to six hundred feet and either reflective material visible on both sides to six hundred feet or a lit lamp visible from both sides for five hundred feet.
- All riders under the age of sixteen must wear a helmet, though the Delaware code specifies under the age of eighteen.
- Cyclists are forbidden from wearing earplugs or headsets on both ears.
- No riding on a highway of the state while drinking or taking narcotic drugs, but if this is violated, it won’t go on your driver’s record. (Still not a good idea because you’ll be fined to the tune of between $150 and $1150; for subsequent offenses, you could be imprisoned for between ten and thirty days or be fined between $400 and $1500).
- No attaching yourself to another vehicle, no taking passengers unless you’re equipped for it, and keep one hand on the handlebars at all times!
Most of this either fairly similar to other states or is common sense, but keep in mind that the online DMV and online Delaware code do differ on a few points, so it’s important to find the grey area between to keep yourself legal on both sides.
A great resource for keeping track of the bike laws in Delaware is the government site itself which is quite comprehensive in its treatment of cyclists. There’s a lot of information there and it’s kept regularly updated. Another place to keep in mind is the DMV as it differs on a few points.
Enjoy your ride!