If you’re looking for a state with a surprisingly minimal amount of bike laws, Indiana may well be your place. Coming under fire over the years for the ambiguity of laws and the vagueness of how bikes and vehicles should interact, Indiana is both a great place to ride your bike, in that there aren’t a million laws tying up your ability to ride; and a risky place to ride, for the same reasons. Still, there are some common-sense laws that are important to have an understanding of when you are riding so that you can stay safe and legal while riding your bike in Indiana.
Where You Can Ride:
One of the problems that cyclists have riding in Indiana is where they are allowed to ride, and the laws on the books don’t help matters. A cyclist does have all the rights and duties of a vehicle, but there isn’t much set down for where riders should be (unlike many other states that specify cyclists should ride as far to the right as possible). It’s still a good idea to ride as close to the right as you can as it’s far safer and of course, if the road has a bike lane, ride in that.
The confusion comes when there isn’t a bike lane, so stay to the right as much as you can, even if by the letter of the law, cyclists can ride down the middle of the lane. In fact, Indiana is one of the eleven states that does not have any laws about passing cyclists, other than in a few municipal laws. This particular ambiguity has been fueling nasty feelings between cyclists and drivers for years now.
The other thing to watch out for is the “dead red” law which allows motorcycles, bikes, and mopeds to run red lights if the signal has been stuck on red for more than two minutes. This was done because these smaller vehicles aren’t heavy enough to trip the signal telling the lights to change and it helps to move things along. However, this is also dangerous for the cyclist and so has to be done carefully (when people realize they can do it at all!)
This is a variation on the Idaho stop law, allowing a cyclist to run a red light if it is safe to do so, the main difference being the fact that cyclists have to wait two minutes to see if the light will change or not. Cyclists are expected to yield the right of way to pedestrians and to other traffic.
Like many other states though, in Indiana, cyclists cannot ride more than two abreast except on bike paths or parts of the roadway that are set aside for bikes. But Indiana does not have anything which specifically prohibits or authorizes the riding of a bike upon a sidewalk, so it’s a good idea to check local law to see if there is something more specific in them.
Indiana also does not have any state-wide laws around passing; only a few cities require that drivers maintain a three feet buffer when passing a cyclist for example (Carmel and Indianapolis being two of them), but many other cities don’t require it. The discrepancy of laws from city to city makes things very confusing for cyclists, so it’s important to read up your municipal laws before riding and to just be careful while riding so that you don’t get into any nasty accidents.
Indiana has some laws around safety gear that is needed when riding your bike, but not as many as you may think. For one thing, there is very little around wearing a helmet; only riders under the age of seventeen are made to wear a helmet. That being said, it’s still a good idea to wear your helmet as it will help protect you in an accident.
Indiana also does not have any vulnerable road user laws and nothing about dooring laws, though drivers are told they should check after parking and before opening a vehicle door to make sure a cyclist isn’t about to get slammed into by a door. This also means that it’s important for the cyclist to pay attention to what drivers are doing in case the driver isn’t paying that much attention.
There are some safety things which you do need to have while riding:
– While riding on a road or highway at night (classified as starting one half hour after sunset and lasting until one half hour before sunrise), your bike must have a lamp on the front that makes the road visible for up to five hundred feet in front of you and a rear reflector that is visible for up to five hundred feet behind you.
– All bikes have to equipped with a bell or another audible device (but not a whistle or a siren) that can be heard for up to one hundred feet. The brakes must be able to make a bike skid to a stop on dry, clean, level pavement
– Riders cannot carry anything that prevents the rider from keeping both hands on the handlebars (as opposed to the usual one).
– It’s illegal to hitch a ride on motor vehicles or streetcars
– Cyclists cannot carry more people at one time than the number of people that the bike can carry. In other words, if you have only one seat, don’t try to carry an extra person!
– It is illegal to ride while under the influence.
There are advocates working to get more protections and more laws on the books to protect cyclists (and keep drivers sane), and there is work being done as well as education to clear up much of the ambiguity around the laws.
The most important thing that cyclists can do now is to use caution when riding, pay attention to municipal laws, and do everything possible to ride in a way that is safe for everyone. That way, no matter what else is going on with the laws, you can enjoy the ride.