Laws Guidebook
Laws Guidebook

This guide is intended to serve as a valuable tool and reference document for education and enforcement of bicycle and pedestrian laws.

In North Carolina, the bicycle has the legal status of a vehicle. This means that bicyclists have full rights and responsibilities on the roadway and are subject to the regulations governing the operation of a motor vehicle.

North Carolina traffic laws require bicyclists to:

  • Ride on the right in the same direction as other traffic
  • Obey all traffic signs and signals
  • Use hand signals to communicate intended movements
  • Equip their bicycles with a front lamp visible from 300 feet and a rear reflector that is visible from a distance of 200 feet when riding at night.
  • Wear a bicycle helmet on public roads, public paths and public rights-of-way if the bicyclists is under 16 years old
  • Secure child passengers in a child seat or bicycle trailer if under 40 pounds or 40 inches

Bicycle & Bikeway Act

Bicyclist on a public road

With the passage of comprehensive Bicycle and Bikeway Act of 1974, North Carolina established the first state bicycle program in the nation, which quickly became a national model. The legislation granted authority for the North Carolina Bicycle Program (now the Division of Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation) to undertake comprehensive bicycle planning and programming.

Bicycle Laws

In North Carolina, the bicycle has the legal status of a vehicle. This means that bicyclists have full rights and responsibilities on the roadway and are subject to the regulations governing the operation of a motor vehicle.

Bicycle Helmet Law

On July 5, 2001, North Carolina became a safer place to ride bicycles through the enactment of the "Child Bicycle Safety Act". This law requires every person under 16 years old to wear an approved bicycle helmet when operating a bicycle on any public road, public bicycle path, or other public right-of-way. The purpose of this law is to reduce the number of head-related injuries and deaths from bicycle crashes. Studies show that helmets prevent 60 percent of head injury deaths and reduce the overall risk of head injuries by 85 percent.

In addition, this law specifies that all child passengers falling at or below 40 pounds/40 inches must be carried in a separate restraining seat. Any parent or legal guardian who knowingly allows a child to ride without a helmet or to ride as a passenger not secured in a restraining seat (when applicable), will be in violation of the law. Violation of the law carries a $10 civil fine. The fine may be waived upon the receipt of satisfactory proof of purchase of helmet or restraining seat. This law went into effect October 1, 2001.

Bicycle Racing Guidelines

Legislation passed in 1977 by the North Carolina General Assembly requires that all bicycle races involving state and local roads must be authorized by designated state and local authorities.

Pedestrian Laws

Pedestrians on a foot bridge

Under North Carolina law, pedestrians have the right of way at all intersections and driveways. However, pedestrians must act responsibly, using pedestrian signals where they are available. When crossing the road at any other point than a marked or unmarked crosswalk or when walking along or upon a highway, a pedestrian has a statutory duty to yield the right of way to all vehicles on the roadway. It is the duty of pedestrians to look before starting across a highway, and in the exercise of reasonable care for their own safety, to keep a timely lookout for approaching motor vehicle traffic. On roadways where there is no sidewalk, pedestrians should always walk facing traffic.

School Crossing Guard Laws

School Zones

North Carolina School Zone Laws

According to the office of the North Carolina Attorney General, school crossing guards may be considered traffic control officers when proper training is provided. Law enforcement agencies responsible for recruiting and training school crossing guards are expected to adhere to the requirements of following statute, which governs traffic control officers.

Considerations about Bicycling Where the Law is Silent

Laws pertaining to the operation of a bicycle vary from state to state. Below are three issues of bicycling that North Carolina law currently does not clarify.

  • Bicycling on Interstate or fully controlled limited access highways, such as beltlines, is prohibited by policy, unless otherwise specified by action of the Board of Transportation. Currently, the only exception to the policy is the US 17 bridge over the Chowan River between Chowan and Bertie Counties.
  • There is no law that requires bicyclists to ride single file, nor is there a law that gives cyclists the right to ride two or more abreast. It is important to ride responsibly and courteously, so that cars may pass safely.
  • There is no law that prohibits wearing headphones when riding a bicycle; however, it is not recommended. It is important to use all your senses to ensure your safety when riding in traffic.