What to Do When Getting Pulled Over On a Bike
Many cyclists aren’t aware until it happens to them, but you absolutely can get pulled over on a bike. Under Minnesota law, the same traffic rules that apply to cars and other motor vehicles apply to bicycles (with certain exceptions). If cyclists are caught breaking these traffic rules, they can be stopped and cited.
Bicyclists in the Twin Cities are regularly stopped and cited for things like failing to stop for stop signs, riding their bicycles on sidewalks in business districts (like downtown, Uptown or the U of M campus), or riding without a front light or rear reflector at night.
What to Do When Stopped by the Police on Your Bike
Be respectful. It’s natural to be upset about being stopped on your bike—especially if it’s happened to you multiple times, or you didn’t know that it could happen—but take a deep breath and remain calm. The things you say to police officers can be used against you, and you don’t want to get yourself into more trouble.
The encounter may start with some questions, like “Do you know why I stopped you?” or “Where are you headed tonight?” Because of your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, the police cannot arrest you just for not answering their questions. But the law can be complex. If you choose not to answer, matters could escalate. In Minnesota, you can be arrested for refusing to identify yourself if the police reasonably suspect that you are involved in a crime. Use your best judgment in the situation.
What about being asked to show your ID? In the United States there’s no law requiring citizens to carry identification of any kind unless they are operating motor vehicles. While bicycles must follow many of the same rules as motor vehicles, they are not technically the same thing under the law. You are not legally required to carry an ID while biking. It might be a good idea to have your ID with you, just in case of an accident or some other event where someone might need to identify you quickly.
What if they ask to search you? Under the law, the police are allowed to do a pat-down search over your clothes. The purpose of the search is supposed to be for their own safety, to check for weapons. You do not have to consent to a further search of your body, bike or belongings. If they ask you, it is okay to say “no.”
Most bike stops by police officers result in a verbal warning or a ticket. It’s likely that the officer will explain why you were stopped and what you were doing wrong, and then let you head on your way again. Occasionally, police officers stop cyclists because they suspect that the cyclist is engaged in illegal activity. The cyclist may match the description of someone else or may be riding in a high-crime area. In these cases, cyclists are often detained for longer. It is almost never a good idea to run away from the police or to resist them with physical force—even if their actions seem to be unreasonable. Doing so could get you in more trouble than you already face.
Of course, each case is different. It is impossible to cover every situation in a blog post, and there is no substitute for getting real legal advice from a lawyer who knows the details of your situation. If you have been pulled over on a bike and have any questions about the way you were treated, you can always contact a local, cycling-conscious attorney for advice.