Something I have often wondered about is what the official Korean cycling laws actually are. It’s the kind of information that can be hard to come by but important to know, especially for someone who crashes as often as I do. I want to say thank you to my friend Kevin for breaking down the most important ones for me.
I will say in advance that some of these laws are sensible, others not so much. But it’s also important to note that these laws aren’t generally enforced or practiced, but they do matter in the case of a crash because they will be used to determine fault and liability. Helmet laws are not included, because no one quite seems to know what they are. Universal helmet requirements were put into effect in October of 2018, but then quickly rescinded due difficulties putting them into effect in a way that worked with the city rental bike scheme. Or so I heard.
Anyway, without further ado, here is a list of Korean cycling laws.
1) You’re supposed to stick to the furthest right lane when riding on the road. Using other lanes is technically illegal. If the furthest right lane is a bus lane, you need to use the furthest right car lane, which would be to the left of the bus lane. What this means is that it is illegal to ride in any kind of bus lane even though the buses themselves will use all available lanes and cars also will use the bus lanes on occasion that are on the right side of the road.
2) ‘Taking the lane’ is a bit of a grey area, as is how much space a cyclist should take up. Rule of thumb seems to be sticking to 50% of the lane. My recommendation is to take as much space as possible, because of how closely many drivers will pass and because of cars that park and stop in non-parking areas, especially taxis. Taking up most of the lane allows a rider to avoid those stopped vehicles.
3) Lane splitting is totally legal when traffic is heavy. You have to do so from the right since it is technically illegal to ride in any other lane.
4) Nearly all bike paths in Korea are mixed use. While extremely annoying (and dumb when there are perfectly good walking paths a few steps away), walking, running, dancing, or anything non-motorized etc. on the bike paths is perfectly legal. This is important to know for legal reasons. Do not strike a pedestrian with your bicycle even on a bike path because you will be responsible for paying all medical fees and settlements.
5) When there is a bike lane directly beside a road, you are ‘supposed’ to use it. If an accident involving a cyclist happens on a road with a bike path running along it, it’s difficult for the cyclist to make a claim against the driver.
6) Riding two-abreast is strictly illegal and only allowed with consent i.e. in events or races that take place on a road.
7) When making a left, you’re supposed to do a hook turn, meaning cross the intersection straight through, stop on the other side, and wait for the light to turn green to cross again in the direction you want to go. If you make a left from the left turning lane and have an accident, you are fully liable.
8) When making a turn, you are required to signal, which is something most cars don’t even do.
Here is a link to a youtube video in which a Korean man models these rules. The video is in Korean, but the modeling should be clear enough.
Just an extra note, I personally follow none of the above rules at most times and have only been stopped by police once and that was for riding through a red light at a pedestrian crossing. Generally speaking you can get away with anything as long as you don’t cause a crash. Once you’ve crashed, however, it will be good to know the rules above.
And one more thing, which I know from experience, if you are in a crash because a car door is opened suddenly in front of you, even if you are in the far right, the driver is only 80% liable for any damage or injury according to Korean law.