Bicycle Laws for Washington D.C., Maryland, & Virginia

Washington D.C. is one of the most bike friendly cities in the nation.

The citizens of our nation’s capital love to ride their bikes for fun and to commute to work. They also enjoy taking their bikes out to the neighboring countryside of Maryland and Virginia. While it is great that many people ride from region to region, they may be unaware that what may be considered legal in their region may be considered illegal and unsafe in another. We split this table into two sections so you can see how the difference in bike laws of all three regions.

Bike Law Similarities; DC, MD, & VA

Many of the bike laws are the same in all three regions, such as the following:


General Traffic Flow Cyclists Passing Cars Cars Passing Cyclists Riding Two Abreast
DC Cyclists traveling on roadways have all the general rights and duties of drivers of vehicles. Ride with the flow of traffic on the right half of the roadway. Allowed to pass on left or right, in the same lane of changing lanes, or pass off road. A person driving a motor vehicle shall exercise due care by leaving a safe distance, but in no case less than 3 feet, when overtaking and passing a bicycle. Allowed when it does not impede traffic. May not ride more than two abreast.
Maryland Cyclists traveling on roadways have all the general rights and duties of drivers of vehicles. Ride with the flow of traffic as closely as practical to the right side of roadway. Exercise due care when passing. The driver of a vehicle passing a cyclist must provide 3′ of space between the car and cyclist. The driver should be able to see the passed vehicle in the rear view mirror before returning to the original lane. After passing you must make sure you are clear of the bicyclist before making any turns. Allowed when it does not impede traffic. May not ride more than two abreast.
Virginia Cyclists traveling on roadways have all the general rights and duties of drivers of vehicles. Ride with the flow of traffic on the right half of the roadway. Allowed to pass on left or right, in the same lane of changing lanes, or pass off road. The driver of a vehicle passing a cyclist must provide 3′ of space between the car and cyclist. Allowed when it does not impede traffic. May not ride more than two abreast.

Bike Law Differences; DC, MD, & VA

On this table, some of the differences in bike laws may be slight while others are very distinct. For example in Virginia you do not have to have a bell on your bicycle. There is also no dooring law in Virginia and bike lane use is only required in Maryland when available.


Where to Ride Dooring Mandatory Bike Lane Use Cycling on Sidewalks Audible Warnings Helmets Lights at Night
DC Operate a bicylce in a safe and non-hazardous manner, so as not to endanger himself or herself or any other person. No person shall open any door of a vehicle unless it is safe to do so and can be done without interfering with moving traffic. Not Required. Yield right of way to pedestrians. Prohibited in the central business district (bounded by Massachusetts Ave. NW, 2nd St NE-SE, D St SE+SW, 14th St NW, Constitution Ave and 23rd St NW). Allowed where posted in this area, and prohibited where posted outside this area. Bell not required Required for any operator or passenger under 16 years of age. Front white light and rear red reflector (or rear red light) required when dark, may be attached to operator.
Maryland Full lane use allowed when traveling at the normal speed of traffic, operating on a one-way street, passing, preparing for a turn, avoiding hazards, traveling in a lane too narrow to share and avoiding a mandatory turn lane. A person may not open the door of any motor vehicle with intent to strike, injure or interfere with any bicyclist. Use of bike lanes required when available except when passing, preparing for a turn or avoiding hazards. No required us of separated paths. Yield right of way to pedestrians. Allowed where permitted by local ordinance (such as in Montgomery County). Bell or other device required, sirens prohibited. Required for any operator or passenger under 16 years of age. Front white light and rear red reflector (or rear red light) required when dark.
Virginia Full lane use allowed when traveling at the normal speed of traffic, passing, preparing fora turn, avoiding hazards, traveling in a lane too narrow to share and avoiding a mandatory turn lane. Not required. Yield right of way to pedestrians. Allowed except where prohibited by local ordinance. Must give audible signal before passing pedestrian. Bell not required. Required by local ordinance for any operator or passenger 14 years of age or younger in Alexandria, Arlington Co., Fairfax Co. Falls Church, Vienna and other jurisdictions. Front white light and rear red reflector required when dark, may be attached to operator; rear red light required on roads 35 mph and up.

Knowing the bike laws for these three regions is important for a number of reasons. It helps to ensure the safety of the rider and for motor vehicle operators as well, as they share the road with bicyclists. When a car is involved in the bike accident, more serious injuries and often death occurs. Trombly & Singer are big supporters of bike riding in Washington DC, but have also seen too many car accident cases to count. That’s why we provided these helpful tables, to raise bike law and road safety awareness.