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As "Vehicle" Operators, Bicyclists in Wisconsin Have Responsibility When Sharing Roads


This could have been a blooper from a reality stunt TV show. A Menasha woman rides her bike onto a drawbridge as it was opening, ignoring the flashing warning lights, swiping one of the lowered arm guards and ultimately riding her swerving bike into the gap between the bridge approach area and the bridge span.

Luckily, the bike stuck in the gap, preventing the woman from falling through. And fortunately, she only suffered minor injuries, thanks to nearby pedestrians who helped extract her and take her to safety. The outrageous scene was captured by video by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. Now the video has gone viral and the story has made national news.

The incident is an opportunity to remind bicyclists in Wisconsin of their rights and responsibilities when it comes to sharing the roads.

Bicycles are defined as “vehicles” under Wisconsin state law. The legal definition of bicycle in Wisconsin does not include very small two-wheeled bicycles, tricycles or motorized bicycles. (We will discuss motorized bicycles in our next blog.)

As a legal vehicle, the operator of a bike is granted the same rights and subject to the same duties as a driver of any other vehicle.

Many of us took a bicycle safety class when we were young. As time goes by, it’s easy to forget some of the basic responsibilities and conduct which, under state law, we are held accountable for.

Here is a primer:

Red Lights

Bicycles are allowed 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.

(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.)

Riding with a friend

Riding two abreast on roads is permitted on any street as long as other traffic is not impeded. On a road with two or more lanes, riders need to ride single file.


A bicyclist passing a stopped or moving vehicle shall exercise due care when passing. And motorists passing a bicyclist in the same lane are required to give the bicyclist at least 3 feet of clearance and to maintain that clearance until safely past.

Where to ride on the road

Always ride on the right side of the road and in the same direction as other traffic. And always ride as far to the right as is practicable, not as far to the right as possible as that can cause accidents with curbs, cracks, rocks, etc.

Use of Shoulders and Sidewalks

Bicycles may be ridden on the shoulder of a highway unless prohibited by local authorities. State Statutes allow local units of government to permit vehicles on sidewalks through local ordinances. When bicycles are allowed on sidewalks, bicyclists must yield to pedestrians and give an audible warning when passing pedestrians traveling in the same direction.

At intersections and other sidewalk crossings (alleys, driveways), a bicyclist on the sidewalk has the same rights and duties as pedestrians.

Bicycling at night

Bicycling at night requires at least a white front headlight on the bike a red rear reflector and/or a red rear light. The headlight needs to be visible from a distance of at least 500 feet.

Despite precautions, accidents still happen.

If you are involved in an accident involving injury to a biker or monetary damage to property exceeding $1000, you need to immediately notify 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.

After you have notified police, contact us. Our legal team can help prove negligence in a bicycle accident. With more than 25 year of experience in personal injury law, we will help you receive the maximum compensation for your injury. Please call us at 414-272-3776.

In our next blog, we will discuss the law as it relates to Electric bicycles and motorized scooters.