Bicycle Laws in the State of Tennessee

According to TDOT's Bikeped website:

In Tennessee, a bicycle has the legal status of a vehicle. This means that bicyclists have full rights and responsibilities on the roadway and are subject to the regulations governing the operation of a motor vehicle. Tennessee traffic laws require bicyclists to:

  • Ride on the right-hand side of the road with the same direction as traffic

  • Obey all traffic signs and signals

  • Use hand signals to communicate intended movements

  • Equip their bicycles with a front white light visible from 500 feet and either a red reflector or a lamp emitting a red light which shall be visible from a distance of at least five hundred feet (500') to the rear

In addition, the TN Child Bicycle Safety Act requires that:

  • All bicycle operators under 16 years of age must wear a bicycle helmet on any highway, street, or sidewalk

  • All child passengers under 40 pounds or 40 inches must be seated and secured in a child restraining seat or a bicycle trailer

The following are excerpts from the Tennessee Code regarding the use of bicycles. Several titles have references to bicycles and each one is listed below. To go directly to the website and search the Tennessee Code.

Please note that these laws are current as of July 2016. These laws could be changed at any time or new laws enacted and added to the Tennessee Code.


Table of Contents

Title 55 – Chapter 8 – Operation of Vehicles – Rules of the Road

Title 55 – Chapter 52 – Safety of Children


TITLE 55 – MOTOR AND OTHER VEHICLES

Chapter 8 – Operation of Vehicles – Rules of the Road

55-8-103. Required obedience to traffic laws — Penalty. —

It is unlawful and, unless otherwise declared in this chapter and chapter 10, parts 1-5 of this title with respect to particular offenses, it is a Class C misdemeanor, for any person to do any act forbidden or fail to perform any act required in this chapter and chapter 10 of this title.

[Acts 1955, ch. 329, § 3; T.C.A., § 59-803; Acts 1989, ch. 591, § 113.]

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55-8-105. Persons riding animals or driving animal-drawn vehicles. —

Every person riding an animal or driving any animal-drawn vehicle upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this chapter and chapter 10, parts 1-5 of this title, except those provisions of this chapter and chapter 10, parts 1-5 of this title that by their very nature can have no application..

[Acts 1955, ch. 329, § 5; T.C.A., § 59-805.]

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55-8-106. Public officers and employees -- Exceptions. —

The provisions of this chapter and chapter 10, parts 1-5 of this title applicable to drivers of vehicles upon the highways shall apply to the drivers of all vehicles owned or operated by the United States, this state or any county, city, town, district or any other political subdivision of the state, subject to specific exceptions as are set forth in this chapter and chapter 10, parts 1-5 of this title.

[Acts 1955, ch. 329, § 95; T.C.A., § 59-806.]

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55-8-110. Traffic-control signals -- Inoperative signals with vehicle detection devices for motorcycles -- Right of way at signals inoperative due to mechanical failure or accident -- Inoperative signals with vehicle detection devices for bicycles. —

(d) Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, the rider of a bicycle approaching an intersection that is controlled by a traffic-control signal utilizing a vehicle detection device that is inoperative due to the size of the bicycle shall come to a full and complete stop at the intersection and, after exercising due care as provided by law, may proceed with due caution when it is safe to do so. It is not a defense to a violation of § 55-8-109 that the rider of a bicycle proceeded under the belief that a traffic-control signal utilized a vehicle detection device or was inoperative due to the size of the bicycle when the signal did not utilize a vehicle detection device or that the device was not in fact inoperative due to the size of the bicycle.

[Acts 1955, ch. 329, § 9; 1973, ch. 28, § 1; 1973, ch. 40, § 1; 1974, ch. 489, § 1; 1976, ch. 401, § 1; T.C.A., § 59-810; Acts 1982, ch. 684, § 1; 1991, ch. 145, §§ 1, 2; 2003, ch. 266, § 1; 2004, ch. 442, § 2; 2005, ch. 15, § 1; 2007, ch. 447, § 1; 2008, ch. 962, § 2; 2008, ch. 964, § 1; 2010, ch. 640, § 1; 2011, ch. 425, §§ 7, 8; 2014, ch. 989, § 1.]

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55-8-127. Restrictions on use of controlled-access roadway. —

(a) The department of transportation and local authorities may, with respect to any controlled-access roadway under their respective jurisdictions, prohibit the use of that roadway by pedestrians, bicycles or other nonmotorized traffic or by any person operating a motor-driven cycle.

(b) The department or the local authority adopting any such prohibitory regulation shall erect and maintain official signs on the controlled-access roadway on which the regulations are applicable, and when the signs are erected, a person who disobeys the restrictions stated on the signs commits a Class C misdemeanor.

[Acts 1955, ch. 329, § 26; impl. am. Acts 1959, ch. 9, § 3; impl. am. Acts 1972, ch. 829, § 7; T.C.A., § 59-827; Acts 1981, ch. 264, § 12; 1989, ch. 591, § 113.]

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55-8-171. Operation of bicycles and play vehicles -- Penalty -- Effect of regulations. —

(a) It is a Class C misdemeanor for any person to do any act forbidden or fail to perform any act required in §§ 55-8-171 -- 55-8-177.

(b) The parent of any child and the guardian of any ward shall not authorize or knowingly permit that child or ward to violate any of the provisions of this chapter and chapter 10, parts 1-5 of this title.

(c) The regulations applicable to bicycles and electric bicycles shall apply whenever a bicycle or electric bicycle is operated upon any highway or upon any path set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles subject to those exceptions stated herein.

(d) This section and §§ 55-8-172 -- 55-8-177 are applicable to electric bicycles as defined in § 55-8-301.

[Acts 1955, ch. 329, § 71; T.C.A., § 59-872; Acts 1989, ch. 591, § 113; 2016, ch. 823, §§ 10, 11.]

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55-8-172. Traffic laws apply to persons riding bicycles — Penalty. —

(a) Every person riding a bicycle or electric bicycle, as defined in § 55-8-301, upon a roadway is granted all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this chapter and chapter 10, parts 1-5 of this title, except as to those provisions of this chapter and chapter 10, parts 1-5 of this title that by their nature can have no application.

(b) Every person riding a bicycle or electric bicycle, as defined in § 55-8-301, is subject to the special regulations in §§ 55-8-171 -- 55-8-177 applicable to bicycles or electric bicycles.

(c) Every person riding an electric bicycle, as defined in § 55-8-301, is subject to the special regulations in part 3 of this chapter applicable to electric bicycles.

(d) A violation of this section is a Class C misdemeanor.

[Acts 1955, ch. 329, § 72; T.C.A., § 59-873; Acts 1989, ch. 591, § 113; 2016, ch. 823, § 12.]

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55-8-173. Riding on bicycles — Playing and use of play vehicles — Penalties. —

(a) A person propelling a bicycle shall not ride other than upon or astride a permanent and regular seat attached thereto, except for a certified police cyclist who is performing duties that require riding in a side dismounting position.

(b) No bicycle shall be used to carry more persons at one (1) time than the number for which it is designed or equipped.

(c) No person shall play on a highway other than upon the sidewalk thereof, within a city or town, or in any part of a highway outside the limits of a city or town, or use thereon roller skates, coasters or any similar vehicle or toy or article on wheels or a runner, except in those areas as may be specially designated for that purpose by local authorities.

(d) A violation of this section is a Class C misdemeanor.

[Acts 1955, ch. 329, § 73; T.C.A., § 59-874; Acts 1985, ch. 138, § 3; 1989, ch. 591, § 113; 1995, ch. 140, § 4.]

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55-8-174. Clinging to vehicles — Penalty. —

(a) No person riding upon any bicycle, roller skates, sled or toy vehicle shall attach the bicycle, roller skates, sled or toy vehicle, or that person's own body, to any streetcar or vehicle upon a roadway.

(b) This section shall not be construed to prohibit the attachment of a bicycle trailer or bicycle semitrailer to a bicycle if the trailer or semitrailer is designed specifically for that purpose.

(c) A violation of this section is a Class C misdemeanor.

[Acts 1955, ch. 329, § 74; T.C.A., § 59-875; Acts 1985, ch. 138, § 4; 1989, ch. 591, § 113.]

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55-8-175. Riding on roadways and bicycle paths — Penalty. —

(a) (1) Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway, except under any of the following situations:

(A) When overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction;
(B) When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway; or
(C) When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or substandard width lanes that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge. For purposes of this section, “substandard width lane” means a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and another vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.

(2) This subsection (a) does not apply to a certified police cyclist engaged in the lawful performance of duty relating to traffic control.

(b) (1) Persons riding bicycles upon a roadway shall not ride more than two (2) abreast except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles. Persons riding two (2) abreast shall not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic and, on a laned roadway, shall ride within a single lane.

(2) Subdivision (b)(1) does not apply to a certified police cyclist engaged in the lawful performance of duty relating to traffic control or in pursuit of an actual or suspected violator of the law.

(c) (1) This subsection (c) shall be known and may be cited as the “Jeff Roth and Brian Brown Bicycle Protection Act of 2007.”

(2) The operator of a motor vehicle, when overtaking and passing a bicycle proceeding in the same direction on the roadway, shall leave a safe distance between the motor vehicle and the bicycle of not less than three feet (3¢) and shall maintain the clearance until safely past the overtaken bicycle.

(d) A violation of this section is a Class C misdemeanor.

[Acts 1955, ch. 329, § 75; T.C.A., § 59-876; Acts 1985, ch. 138, § 5; 1989, ch. 591, § 113; 1995, ch. 140, §§ 5, 6; 2007, ch. 81, § 1.]

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55-8-176. Carrying articles on bicycles — Penalty. —

(a) No person operating a bicycle shall carry any package, bundle or article that prevents the driver from keeping at least one (1) hand upon the handlebars.

(b) A violation of this section is a Class C misdemeanor.

[Acts 1955, ch. 329, § 76; T.C.A., § 59-877; Acts 1989, ch. 591, § 113.]

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55-8-177. Bicycle lamps and brakes — Penalties. —

(a) Every bicycle, when in use at nighttime, shall be equipped with a lamp on the front, which shall emit a white light visible from a distance of at least five hundred feet (500¢) to the front, and either a red reflector or a lamp emitting a red light, which shall be visible from a distance of at least five hundred feet (500¢) to the rear, when directly in front of lawful upper beams of head lamps on a motor vehicle.

(b) Every bicycle shall be equipped with a brake or brakes which will enable its driver to stop the bicycle within twenty-five feet (25¢) from a speed of ten miles per hour (10 mph) on dry, level, clean pavement.

(c) A violation of this section is a Class C misdemeanor.

[Acts 1955, ch. 329, § 77; T.C.A., § 59-878; Acts 1985, ch. 138, § 6; 1989, ch. 591, § 113; 2009, ch. 397, § 1.]

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55-8-178. Regulations governing nonmotor vehicles and animals — Penalty. —

(a) Every driver or person having charge of any nonmotor vehicle, on any of the public roads in or of this state, on meeting and passing another vehicle, shall give one-half (½) of the road by turning to the right, so as not to interfere in passing.

(b) When nonmotor vehicles on public roads are traveling in the same direction, and the driver of the hindmost desires to pass the foremost, each driver shall give one-half (½) of the road, the foremost by turning to the right, and the hindmost to the left.

(c) (1) No driver shall stop a nonmotor vehicle on any of the public roads, for any cause or pretense whatever, without turning so far to the right as to leave at least one-half (½) of the road free, open, and unobstructed for other travelers and vehicles.

(2) Subdivision (c)(1) does not apply to a certified police cyclist engaged in the lawful performance of duty relating to traffic control.

(d) Drivers of nonmotor vehicles on public roads shall pass each other in a quiet, orderly, and peaceable manner, and shall not make any noise intended to disturb or frighten the driver or the animals drawing nonmotor vehicles.

(e) No person shall willfully, by noise, gesture or by other means, on or near public roads, disturb or frighten the driver or rider or the animals ridden or drawing vehicles thereon.

(f) (1) An intentional or careless violation of this section is a Class C misdemeanor.

(2) A willful or malicious violation of this section, whereby the death of any person is occasioned, is a Class E felony.

(g) (1) All horse-drawn vehicles and/or equipment, whether farm or passenger, shall be equipped with a self-luminous white lamp which shall be visible from the front from a distance of at least five hundred feet (500¢) and with a self-luminous red lamp on the rear which shall be visible from a distance of at least five hundred feet (500¢) to the rear.

(2) This subsection (g) applies only if the horse-drawn vehicle is used as the owner's primary mode of personal or farm transportation and is regularly driven upon public roads or highways or the rights-of-way thereof.

(3) This subsection (g) does not apply in any county having a population of not less than three hundred nineteen thousand six hundred twenty-five (319,625) nor more than three hundred nineteen thousand seven hundred twenty-five (319,725) or of not less than eighty-eight thousand seven hundred (88,700) nor more than eighty-eight thousand eight hundred (88,800), according to the 1980 federal census or any subsequent federal census.

[Code 1858, §§ 1172-1177, 4649 (deriv. Acts 1837-1838, ch. 114, §§ 1-6); Acts 1911, ch. 33; Shan., §§ 1600-1605, 6491; mod. Code 1932, §§ 2671-2677; T.C.A. (orig. ed.), § 59-879; Acts 1988, ch. 947, §§ 1-4; 1989, ch. 452, §§ 1-3; 1989, ch. 591, §§ 1, 6, 113; 1995, ch. 140, § 7.]

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55-8-197. Failure to Yield Right of Way — Rules of the Road. —

(a) Any person who violates subdivisions (a)(1)-(6) and the violation results in an accident resulting in serious bodily injury to or death of any person shall be guilty of a misdemeanor:

(1) Section 55-8-115 by failing to drive on the right half of the roadway as provided in the section, except for those motor vehicles in compliance with § 55-7-115 or § 55-7-202;

(2) Section 55-8-118 or § 55-8-119 by unlawfully overtaking and passing another vehicle as provided in those sections;

(3) Section 55-8-128, § 55-8-129, § 55-8-130 or § 55-8-131 by failing to yield the right of way as provided in those sections;

(4) Section 55-8-134, by failing to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians in crosswalks as provided in the section;

(5) Section 55-8-136, by failing to exercise due care as provided in the section; or

(6) Section 55-8-175(c), by failing to overtake and pass a bicycle safely as provided in § 55-8-175(c).

(b) For the purposes of this section, unless the context otherwise requires, "serious bodily injury" means:

(1) Substantial risk of death;

(2) Serious disfigurement; or

(3) Protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member, organ or mental faculty.

(c)  (1) A violation of subsection (a) is a Class B misdemeanor if the accident results in serious bodily injury of another.

(2) A violation of subsection (a) is a Class A misdemeanor if the accident results in the death of another.

(d) The court shall send the department a record of any of the convictions of any of the sections indicated in subsection (a). The court shall indicate on the record or abstract whether the violation resulted in serious bodily injury of another or death of another.

(e) Upon conviction, the court may revoke the license or permit to drive and any nonresident operating privilege of a person convicted under this section for a period of up to six (6) months, if the accident results in serious bodily injury of another, and up to one (1) year if the accident results in death of another.

[Acts 2007, ch. 537, § 1; 2009, ch. 342, § 1; 2011, ch. 192, §§ 2, 3; 2016, ch. 834, § 1.]

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Chapter 52 – Safety of Children

55-52-105. Child bicycle safety rules and regulations. —
With regard to any bicycle operated over any highway, street or sidewalk, it is unlawful:

(1) For any person under sixteen (16) years of age to operate or be a passenger on a bicycle unless at all times when so engaged the person wears a protective bicycle helmet of good fit fastened securely upon the head with the straps of the helmet;

(2) For any person to be a passenger on a bicycle unless, with respect to any person who weighs less than forty pounds (40 lbs.), or is less than forty inches (40²) in height, the person can be and is properly seated in and adequately secured to a restraining seat;

(3) For any parent or legal guardian of a person under twelve (12) years of age to knowingly permit the person to operate or be a passenger on a bicycle in violation of subdivision (1) or (2); and

(4) To rent or lease any bicycle to or for the use of any person under sixteen (16) years of age unless:

(A) The person is in possession of a protective bicycle helmet of good fit at the time of the rental or lease; or

(B) The rental or lease includes a protective bicycle helmet of good fit, and the person intends to wear the helmet, as required by subdivision (1), at all times while operating or being a passenger on the bicycle.

[Acts 1993, ch. 399, § 6; 1998, ch. 684, § 2; 2000, ch. 916, § 5.]

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