What is the law anyway?

Many people remain confused about the laws that relate to riding a bicycle in Wisconsin. You can find a summary of most of the laws that relate to cycling in the post below.

Vehicular Status

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)]


Lane Positioning

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].

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)]

Red Lights

The Bike Fed recently had the law changed 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 s.o

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

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)]

Hand Signals

The alternate method circled in red is now a legal right turn signal.

Bicyclists are required to use the same hand signals as motorists [346.35]

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 is also required to take due care when passing. [346.80(2)(c)]

Passing on the right

346.08  When overtaking and passing on the right permitted. The operator of a vehicle may overtake and pass another vehicle upon the right only under conditions permitting the movement in safety and only if the operator can do so while remaining on either the roadway or a paved shoulder, and then only under the following conditions:

(1) When the vehicle overtaken is making or about to make a left turn or U-turn; or

(2) Upon a street or highway with unobstructed pavement of sufficient width to enable 2 or more lines of vehicles lawfully to proceed, at the same time, in the direction in which the passing vehicle is proceeding; or

(3) Upon a one-way street or divided highway with unobstructed pavement of sufficient width to enable 2 or more lines of vehicles lawfully to proceed in the same direction at the same time.

History: 1991 a. 3162009 a. 97.

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 and a red rear reflector. The white front light must be visible to others 500 feet away. The red rear reflector must be visible to others between 50 and 500 feet away. A red or amber steady or flashing rear light may be used in addition to the required reflector. These are required no matter where you ride–street, path or sidewalk. [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.


About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

21 thoughts on “What is the law anyway?

    • Ann,

      Urban bike lanes would typically have parallel pedestrian ways, and in that case, a pedestrian should walk on the sidewalk unless crossing the street or getting into a parked car, etc. On rural or suburban roads where there is no sidewalk, pedestrians are allowed to walk on the road, that includes shoulders and bike lanes, but must walk against the flow of traffic. Does that cover the situation you are thinking of?

      • Thank you for your reply! I am in a suburban community with no sidewalks, but we have a designated “bike path” that parallels a main and busy road. Currently, both bicyclists and walkers use the path, but a question has been raised about whether the path should have dual designation, as opposed to simply a bike lane. Does designation affect liability in the case of a bike hitting a pedestrian, as far as you know?

        • Ann,

          I am unaware of any trail that is not automatically “multi-use” except where there are separated paths and one is marked for pads and the other for bikes. But let’s be clear in our definitions. A bike lane is painted on the road, next to the motor vehicle travel lane. A multi-use path or “bike trail” is a paved or gravel facility, usually 10ft wide, that is physically separated from the motor vehicle lane. Any trail you have is surely a multi-use path for walkers, joggers, bikes, roller blades, etc. You need not fear liability issues either. If you have very specific question relative to this and particular local ordinances, I suggest you call our Madison office and talk to Kevin Luecke, our policy and legislation program manager. I hope this helps.

  1. If I am riding to work in the morning and it is light enough that I can see do I need to use my front headlight?

    • Hi Nicole,

      Bicycles are legal vehicles, so we have to follow the same rules when it comes to lights. This is from the WisDOT Drivers Book:

      “Headlights must be turned on during the hours of darkness . This is from 1/2 hour after sunset to 1/2 hour before sunrise,
      or anytime weather conditions make it hard to see.”

  2. I was involved in an accident where a cyclist hit me while I was crossing the street. I was severely injured, and the cyclist said she was traveling at a minimum of 20 mph. My question is why law enforcement does not write an accident report for cyclist/pedestrian accidents. This was a conjested downtown area, the cyclist was traveling down a steep hill, and did not have a headlight on. It was about five minutes before sunset. I didn’t see the bike coming, but the cyclist saw me crossing over 100 feet away. There was also over three feet of room for the cyclist to continue without striking me. Why were there no citations written to the cyclist? Is law enforcement trained on how to access violations by cyclists?

    • Ann,

      Sorry to hear of the crash and your injuries. Unfortunately, our culture is so “auto-centric” that crashes involving people on bicycles and pedestrians are often considered unimportant, or “accidents” (a word which implies nobody is at fault). Many law enforcement officers are not properly trained about the rules of the road relating to walking or biking. For instance my wife was hit by a car that ran a stop sign. She was knocked down, was bleeding and bruised, but her injuries did not require hospitalization. The police officer who was called to the scene did not fill out an accident report because the damage was not great and he did not see the crash. The motorist admitted what happened, and there were witnesses, but that did not matter. These situations are very common. If you like, there are a number of lawyers who specialize in bicycle related crashes. I could recommend one to you. On a related note, our Share & Be Aware safety campaign emphasizes bicycles must obey the laws and we have PSAs that highlight safety for people walking. The Bike Fed also does training sessions for law enforcement agencies. Our midwestern bias against people walking and biking will take a lot to overcome, but we have to start somewhere. I hope you heal quickly.

  3. I am intending to ride across Wisconsin, leaving in two days time.

    Is it legal to use Interstate Highways such as the I94?



    • Roger,

      It is illegal to ride a non-motorized vehicle on the interstate highways in Wisconsin. Although some states allow that, we don’t and all are posted with signs at on-ramps noting that bicycles are prohibited. Good luck on your ride, but stay off the restricted highways!

  4. I have a question……I was riding my bike within a marked bike lane alongside a county highway in WI. A car passed me, I looked up the road to make sure my lane was clear, and looked down for a few seconds to rest my neck. As I started to look up all I saw was a bumper. The person that passed me pulled over into the bike lane and parked to answer a phone call. I hit the rear of her car and flew into the air and landed in the road. Was this illegal for her to park in the bike lane based on WI law 346.94 (12) or any other law?

    Thank you,

    • Chris,

      It is illegal to park in a bike lane, but was it a bike lane or just a paved shoulder? Either way, it seems the driver was at least partially at fault for the crash. I hope you were not badly hurt.

      • It was a widened 3 to 4 feet wide paved lane between the white line of the car lane and the gravel shoulder of a county road and was marked as a bike lane. “Bike Lane” was painted within the lane every mile or so. All that happened to her car was a broken taillight, I flew into the air flipping over and landing on my back in the middle of the traffic lane. I had road rash on my arm, my shoulder was strained and I must have slammed my right leg from my knee to my hip into the car before I went over. Nothing was broken thankfully. I’m willing to say it was both our faults even, but her insurance company just sent me a letter stating I was 100% my fault. From what I’ve been reading, it’s illegal for a car to park in a marked bike lane but not sure if WI law 346.94 (12) is specific enough for her insurance company. Do you know of the specific law stating a car cannot park in a marked bike lane? Thanks in advance.

        • Chris,

          Since the lane was marked in a bike lane, I think you are correct. That said, I am not an attorney and everything can be argued in court. Of course her insurance company said you were at fault, that is what they do. I would not take that for a final answer. I would seek out the advice of an attorney who specializes in bicycle laws. There are a couple that I am aware of in Wisconsin:

          Clayton Greissmeyer: http://www.griessmeyerlaw.com/

          Daniel Goldberg: http://wibikelaw.com/

          There are likely others, and perhaps one closer to you, but those are two I am familiar with. I strongly advise you to contact one of them or another attorney who specializes in bicycle crashes. Good luck.

  5. I have some questions about riding my fatbike on the groomed snowmobile trails. Is this legal? The groomed trails are awesome for riding and are very convenient to get to here in WI. Does this propose an issue for snowmobilers? Do the same rules apply to the trails as the road with direction of travel? Thanks for the help.

    • Orion,

      How do you define a pedal car? A four-wheeled bicycle may not have any restrictions, but a child’s play vehicle does not have the same rights on the road. It really depends on what we are talking about.

  6. Jason, I’m confused by your post. I just noticed it. Bike laws say a bicyclist has to have front and back lights on before actual darkness. The bicyclist saw me 100 feet away, but didn’t attempt to stop until about a minute before I was hit. When asked, the bicyclist indicated I probably didn’t see her, or hear her until she screamed for me to get out of the way a few seconds before impact. The bicyclist said she was just hoping maybe I’d move. I was unconscious, but the bicyclist did immediately apologize to my husband, and asked him if he thought it was okay if she left before the police got there. Another statement was that the street was just not wide enough for bicycles and pedestrians. Sadly, in vacation communities it is very difficult to tell if a cyclist has been drinking, and whether that may influence an accident. That type of accident should require alcohol or drug testing on the spot to insure public safety, but it’s not done.You seem to condone that it’s okay for a bicyclist to run into a pedestrian, and cause great bodily harm if one gets in the way. Didn’t see the bicyclist because it was getting very dark, and coming toward me at too fast a speed. Economic issues come into play if a bicyclist has no means of reimbursing a pedestrian for medical costs. Both parties are responsible, and a week in intensive care costs money. I’m not saying, but any cyclist leaving a bar, who is involved in an accident, should have to be tested for DUI.

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