Vulnerable Road User Laws and Anti-Harassment Ordinances

What are Vulnerable Road User Laws? 

Vulnerable road user laws are commonly adopted at the state level and intend to protect vulnerable road users, including people walking, biking, or rolling, from intentionally or negligently motor vehicle driver behavior resulting in injury or death.  

These laws protect anyone using shared roadways that are not protected by the steel frame of an automobile and operate on the principle of general deterrence, where there is an increased penalty for those whose motor vehicle driver behavior leads to death or serious injury of vulnerable road users. Vulnerable road user laws are relatively new and, according to the New York Bicycling Coalition, protect vulnerable road users in two ways: 

1) harsher penalties for the violation of existing laws when that violation impacts a defined set of road users, or

2) the creation of new laws that prohibit certain actions directed at a defined set of road users.

What are Anti-Harassment Ordinances? 

Anti-harassment ordinances are commonly adopted by cities and counties and focus on protecting people who bike from intentional threats, assaults, or harassment by motorists. Under an anti-harassment ordinance, bicycle riders can sue offending vehicle drivers in civil court, which has a lower burden of proof than criminal charges, making it easier for people biking to be adequately compensated. At least 17 states and the District of Columbia have adopted some form of anti-harassment ordinances to protect those walking, biking, or rolling. 

Why do Vulnerable Road User Laws and Anti-harassment Ordinances Matter? 

The majority of vulnerable road user laws and anti-harassment ordinances provide increased fines and civil liability in cases where a person biking is injured or killed because of negligent or intentional motorist behavior. Vulnerable road user laws and anti-harassment ordinances thereby boost incentives for motorists to practice safe roadway behavior and deter unsafe behaviors around people walking and biking. They also increase opportunities for vulnerable road users to seek legal recourse after a crash. 

Where Can I Find Model Road User Laws? 

The League of American Bicyclists Legal Affairs Committee announced three new model laws that states and communities can use to craft legislation protecting the safety of vulnerable road users.

  1. Model Vulnerable Road User Law: provides punishment for motor vehicle drivers who seriously or injure people using roadways who are not protected by a motor vehicle.
  2. Model Safe Passing Law: provides language directing drivers of motor vehicles to move over a lane where possible or pass bicyclists at no closer than 3 feet. It also enables motor vehicles to cross double-yellow lines in order to pass bicyclists safely.
  3. Model Where to Ride Law: provides language empowering a bicyclist to make safe choices regarding lane position and increases public understanding about where bicyclists should ride on the road.

FHWA's Vulnerable Road User Safety Assessment Guidance 

In 2022, as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) unveiled its Vulnerable Road User Safety Assessment Guidance. This guidance provides additional clarity for states as they develop their Vulnerable Road User Safety Assessment, which aims to identify areas of high risk to vulnerable road users and what safety improvements can address them. Every state is required to complete an Assessment as part of their Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP). 

Which States Have Vulnerable Road User Laws? 

At least twelve states have adopted vulnerable road user laws, including Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington. In 2007, Oregon became the first state to pass a vulnerable road user law.

What California Jurisdictions Have Already Adopted Vulnerable Road User Laws and Anti-Harassment Ordinances? 



Type of Law 

Year Passed

Sonoma County County Vulnerable User Law 2013
Los Angeles, CA City Anti-harassment Ordinance 2011
Berkeley, CA City Anti-harassment Ordinance 2012
Sunnyvale, CA City Anti-harassment Ordinance 2012
Sebastopol, CA City Anti-harassment Ordinance 2012
Santa Rosa, CA City Anti-harassment Ordinance 2013
SOURCE: Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition's Vulnerable User Laws and Anti-harassment Ordinances Factsheet

Additional Resources