Is a Bell a Legal Requirement on a Bike?

By: Alex Bristol

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The number of bicyclists on American roads has increased substantially over the past decade. Cycling is becoming an upward trend but it’s also something many city leaders focus on: their goal is to get people out of their cars and onto alternative forms of transportation. On the other hand, as more riders are on the road, the likelihood of bicycle-related accidents increases. Every year about 40,000 bicycle accidents are reported in the United States, and sadly some of them, about 800 every year, are fatal. Many cities have taken steps to make roads a safer place for bicyclists, implementing changing on the streets but this is not enough: cyclists have to be aware of the risks, and take precautions. That’s how accessories like front and tail lights or helmets has become mandatory in some cities. But what about bells? Is a bell on a bike required by law?

Honestly, I had no idea and I had to do some research. It turns out the matter is complicated. There’s no federal law about bike bells, each country has its own rules. Also, some municipalities have city ordinances that require bells on the bikes, even though the State Road Code doesn’t.

Where is a bell required by law?

Some states, such as New York, South Carolina, Indiana, Georgia, and New Jersey, have established by law that a bike must be equipped with a bell. The law isn’t always enforced: go for a ride somewhere in South Carolina, for example, and you won’t see very much adult bikes with bells on them.

About bike equipment, New York Code states that “no person shall operate a bicycle unless it is equipped with a bell or other device capable of giving a signal audible for a distance of at least one hundred feet.” The same applies in Georgia and New Jersey.

Some States’ Road Code requires an audible warning when approaching a pedestrian or another road user to pass them, even though a bell on your bike is not specifically required. This is the case of Montana, California, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Pennsylvania… A yell like “out of the way!” is recognized as an audible warning.

Somewhere else, Ohio for example, a bell is not required but you’re allowed to use one, while you can’t use a siren or a whistle.

Things get more complicated in places like Florida, where a bell isn’t required by the State Road Code but in some cities, such as Orlando, an ordinance requires you to mount a bell or horn and front & rear lights.

Unique is the case of Washington DC where bells have been mandatory up to 2013 (as it had been for 125 years), but since that date bikes have been allowed to be ridden without a bicycle bell.

Is a bell required by law in my state/city?

There’s no other solution than getting informed about the laws and ordinances in use in the specific area. In doubt, spend 10-15$ on a bike bell (we have the best bike bell guide for that) and forget about it. After all, there’s no place at all where bike bells are forbidden.