Legal Status of Bicyclists
Bicyclists are Drivers of Vehicles
State law defines bicycles as vehicles and defines bicyclists as having the rights and duties of drivers of vehicles. Most of the rules of the road apply to all vehicles including non-motorized vehicles. Vehicles propelled by human or animal power have been operated on public roads for thousands of years. The basic rules of the road for all wheeled vehicles originated with horse-drawn carriages, and were extended to bicycles, motorcycles and automobiles because the same basic maneuvering principles apply. Every US state assigns bicyclists the rights and duties of drivers of vehicles.
§ 20-4.01(49) Vehicle. – …for the purposes of this Chapter bicycles shall be deemed vehicles and every rider of a bicycle upon a highway shall be subject to the provisions of this Chapter applicable to the driver of a vehicle except those which by their nature can have no application.
As drivers of vehicles, bicyclists are allowed to travel on all public roadways except fully controlled access highways (freeways) such as interstates which have no driveways or at-grade intersections. Because property alongside a fully controlled access highway is accessed by local roads instead of the highway, bicyclists do not need to use fully controlled access highways to reach their destinations.
NCAC 19A.2E.0409 OPERATING NONMOTORIZED VEHICLES: It is unlawful for any person to ride any animal, or to operate a bicycle or horse drawn wagon or any nonmotorized vehicle or moped on any interstate or other fully controlled access highway.
Bicycles are not Motor Vehicles
Most of the rules of the road are written to apply to all vehicles regardless of propulsion source, e.g. “A vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane.” Some special laws apply only to motor vehicles due to their higher speed capability, greater danger to others, and higher property value. Motor vehicles are defined as a special class of vehicle under state law.
§ 20-4.01(23) Motor Vehicle. – Every vehicle which is self-propelled ….
Non-Motorized Vehicles Exempt from Impeding Traffic Restrictions
Bicycles and other vehicles with limited speed capabilities are allowed to operate on normal roads and are therefore not required to travel faster than their safe capability. The NC impeding traffic law completely exempts non-motorized vehicles and exempts those motor vehicles that travel at slow speed due to their design and nature.
§ 20-141. (h) No person shall operate a motor vehicle on the highway at such a slow speed as to impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic except when reduced speed is necessary for safe operation or in compliance with law; provided, this provision shall not apply to farm tractors and other motor vehicles operating at reasonable speeds for the type and nature of such vehicles.