Biking is fun and easy. You can find a summary of the Wisconsin biking laws below and become a biking law guru. You can request a S&BA Ambassador to teach classes for a fee that cover these laws in your community.
The bicycle is defined as a vehicle. [340.01(5)]
The operator of a vehicle is granted the same rights and subject to the same duties as the driver of any other vehicle. [346.02(4)(a)]
Always ride on the right, in the same direction as other traffic. [346.80(2)(a)]
Ride as far to the right as is practicable (not as far right as possible) [346.80(2)(a)]. Practicable generally means safe and reasonable.
Article 346.80(2)(a) lists a few situations when it is not practicable to ride far to the right:
- When overtaking and passing another vehicle traveling in the same direction
- When preparing for a left turn at an inter-section or driveway
- When reasonably necessary to avoid unsafe conditions, including fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards or substandard width lanes [defined as a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and a motor vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane].
- When going the same speed as motorized traffic
One Way Streets
Bicyclists on a one-way street with two or more lanes of traffic may ride as near the left or right-hand edge or curb of the roadway as practicable (in the same direction as other traffic). [346.80(2)(b)]
Bike Lanes and Use of Shoulders
(12) Driving on bicycle lane or bicycle way. No operator of a motor vehicle may drive upon a bicycle lane or bicycle way except to enter a driveway, to merge into a bicycle lane before turning at an intersection, or to enter or leave a parking space located adjacent to the bicycle lane or bicycle way. Persons operating a motor vehicle upon a bicycle lane or bicycle way shall yield the right-of-way to all bicycles and electric personal assistive mobility devices within the bicycle lane
Bicycles may be ridden on the shoulder of a highway unless prohibited by local authorities. [386.04(1m)]
The Bike Fed recently changed the law in Wisconsin so it is now legal for bicycles to ride through red lights after stopping and waiting for 45 seconds if they suspect the light is actuated but is not tuned to detect bicycles.
Wisconsin statute 346.37(1)(c)(4) outlines the one exception to general rule of stopping for red lights for operators of bicycles, motorcycles, mopeds and motorbikes. The exception is for intersections where the lights are controlled by vehicle-actuated sensors – that is, the light will only change when it senses that a vehicle is present. Some sensors do not pick up smaller vehicles, such as bicycles and motorcycles, and therefore will not change no matter how long the operator waits at the light. If you are on a bicycle and have waited at least 45 seconds at a red light, and you believe the light only changes color when it senses the presence of a motor vehicle, you may proceed through the intersection if it is safe to do so.
Here’s exactly what the statute says:
“a motorcycle, moped, motor bicycle, or bicycle facing a red signal at an intersection may, after stopping as required under subd. 1. for not less than 45 seconds, proceed cautiously through the intersection before the signal turns green if no other vehicles are present at the intersection to actuate the signal and the operator of the motorcycle, moped, motor bicycle, or bicycle reasonably believes the signal is vehicle actuated. The operator of a motorcycle, moped, motor bicycle, or bicycle proceeding through a red signal under this subdivision shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicular traffic, pedestrian, bicyclist, or rider of an electric personal assistive mobility device proceeding through a green signal at the intersection or lawfully within a crosswalk or using the intersection.”
Riding 2 abreast is permitted on any street as long as other traffic is not impeded. When riding 2 abreast on a 2 or more lane roadway, you both have to ride within a single lane. [346.80(3)(a)]
Bicyclists are required to use the same hand signals as motorists [346.35] or the alternate and more intuitive right hand to indicate right turn.
Hand signals are required within 50 feet of your turn.. They are not required continuously if you need both hands to control the bicycle [346.34(1)(b)]
A motorist passing a bicyclist in the same lane is required to give the bicyclist at least 3 feet of clearance, and to maintain that clearance until safely past. [346.075]
A bicyclist passing a stopped or moving vehicle shall exercise due care when passing. [346.80(2)(c)]
Use of Sidewalks
State Statutes allow local units of government to permit vehicles on sidewalks through local ordinances. 346.94(1)]
When bicycles are allowed to be operated on sidewalks, bicyclists must yield to pedestrians and give an audible warning when passing pedestrians traveling in the same direction. [346.804]
At intersections and other sidewalk crossings (alleys, driveways), a bicyclist on the sidewalk has the same rights and duties as pedestrians. [346.23, 24, 25, 37, 38]
Bicycling at Night
Bicycling at night requires at least a white front headlight, a red rear reflector and/or a red rear light. Specifically: “No person may operate a bicycle, motor bicycle, or electric personal assistive mobility device upon a highway, sidewalk, bicycle lane, or bicycle way during hours of darkness unless the bicycle, motor bicycle, or electric personal assistive mobility device is equipped with or, with respect to a bicycle or motor bicycle, the operator is wearing, a lamp emitting a white light visible from a distance of at least 500 feet to the front of the bicycle, motor bicycle, or electric personal assistive mobility device. A bicycle, motor bicycle, or electric personal assistive mobility device shall also be equipped with a red reflector that has a diameter of at least 2 inches of surface area or, with respect to an electric personal assistive mobility device, that is a strip of reflective tape that has at least 2 square inches of surface area, on the rear so mounted and maintained as to be visible from all distances from 50 to 500 feet to the rear when directly in front of lawful upper beams of headlamps on a motor vehicle. A lamp emitting a steady or flashing red light visible from a distance of 500 feet to the rear may be used in lieu of the red reflector. [347.489(1)]
Duty to report a crash (accident) [346.70]
The operator of a vehicle involved in a collision resulting in injury to or death of any person, or total damage to property owned by any one person of $1,000 or more shall immediately give notice of such collision to the police.
- “Injury” means injury to a person of a physical nature resulting in death or the need of first aid or attention by a physician or surgeon, whether or not first aid or medical or surgical treatment was actually received
- “Total damage to property owned by one person” means the sum total cost of putting the property damaged in the condition it was before the accident, or the sum total cost of replacing such property.
Electric assist bicycles are a rapidly growing segment of the market. In the United States of America, Congress has defined a low-speed electric bicycle as any bicycle or tricycle with fully operable pedals, an electric motor not exceeding 750 W of power and a top motor-powered speed not in excess of 20 miles per hour. An electric bike or trike that meets these limitations is regarded as a bicycle Ifil by Public Law 107-319.12] This Law defines electric bicycles only for the purpose of Consumer Product Safety and does not allow for their use on roads. It is a safety criteria that manufacturers should use in building electric bicycles, which helps protect manufacturers from the threat of lawsuits from within states that attempt to legislate more stringent safety requirements.
These are Federal regulations that put control of monitoring the safety of electric bicycles into the hands of the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC), which supersede any state law that is more stringent, but only regarding safety equipment required on electric bicycles and not regarding whether electric bicycles are street legal. The states still decide what vehicles are allowed to use the roads in their state.
TEA-21 and SAFETEA-LU Specify that legal Ebikes, as defined above, are legal on urban bicycle trail systems getting any federal funding unless states or local entities have passed laws specifically dis-allowing electric assist bicycles. Under Federal Law, Ebikes are NOT considered motor vehicles unless the state or local entity has passed a law otherwise.
There is a MISCONCEPTION that when “motor vehicles” or “motorized vehicles” are disallowed by law or by signage, that this always means ebikes are illegal on trails. This is UNTRUE in many states; these terms do not include “legal low power electric assist bicycles”, and can only be banned by passing a specific state or local law. (See TEA-21 Federal DOT Law)
SAFETEA-LU is a 2005 Federal Re-authorization of the 1990s TEA-21, and renews the exclusion of legal ebikes from the classification of’motor vehicles’ from urban trail use unless a specific local ebike statute is passed.
“Motorized vehicles are not permitted on trails and pedestrian walkways EXCEPT FOR: maintenance purposes, motorized wheelchairs, and-when State or local regulations permit-snowmobiles and electric bicycles. Electric bicycles are defined for the purposes of this Act as a bicycle or tricycle with a low-powered electric motor weighing less than 100 pounds with a top motor-powered speed not in excess of20 miles per hour.”
(The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, P.L.109-59 Available from the Government Printing Office or online at www.dot.gov. Title 23, United States Code. Available from the Government Printing Office or your local library system.)
There is some debate as to if and where the 100 lb rule applies. On the surface it appears to be valid on trails. Check your state and local laws for any recent changes.
As always, unsafe operation may be a specific illegal or civil matter to be handled by local courts.
Wisconsin E-bike Laws
Wisconsin state statutes have not been updated to reflect Federal laws, so you may run into trouble using an e-assist bicycle on trails. The Wisconsin Bike Fed will be working with our state legislature to amend and update our laws to bring them into compliance with Federal rules and modern e-bike standards. Currently Wisconsin laws are as follows:
Electric bicycles in Wisconsin are defined as motor bicycles. Motor bicycle operators are required to have a valid driver’s license. Motor bicycles cannot be used on bike paths unless they are being operated solely by pedal power, like a bike. When operating you also need to follow the rules of the road. Here are the relevant state statutes:
340.01 (30) Motor bicycle means any of the following:
(a) A bicycle to which a power unit not an integral part of the vehicle has been added to permit the vehicle to travel at a speed of not more than 30 miles per hour with a 150-pound rider on a dry, level, hard surface with no wind and having a seat for the operator.
(b) A 2-wheeled or 3-wheeled vehicle that has fully operative pedals for propulsion by human power and an electric motor of less than 750 watts and that is capable, when powered solely by the motor, of a maximum speed of less than 20 miles per hour with a 170-pound rider on a dry, level, hard surface with no wind.
343.05(3)(c) Operators to be licensed; exceptions.
(3) NONCOMMERCIAL VEHICLES
(c) No person may operate a moped or motor bicycle unless the person possesses a valid operators license or a special restricted operators license issued under s. 343.135 or a restricted license issued under s. 343.08. A license under this paragraph does not authorize operation of a moped or motor bicycle if the license is revoked, suspended, canceled or expired.
346.79 Special rules applicable to bicycles.
(5) No person may ride a moped or motor bicycle with the power unit in operation upon a bicycle way.
340.01(5s) Bicycle way means any path or sidewalk or portion thereof designated for the use of bicycles and electric personal assistive mobility devices by the governing body of any city, town, village, or county.
346.804 Riding bicycle on sidewalk is not allowed unless by local ordinance.
WisDOT also have other materials on their website about the rules of the road, where to ride, and general bicycle safety.