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What are the top 10 most important California Laws for Bicycle Riders?

What are the top 10 most important California laws for bicycle riders?  As a bike accident attorney in Los Angeles, this is a question I think bears answering to provide bicyclists with important information about their rights and responsibilities related to traveling the roadways of the Golden State.  I would summarize these as follows:

  1. Important laws affecting bicycle riders in californiaRight to Ride a Bike on the Street: This is probably the single most important statute as it states that, “a person riding a bicycle or operating a pedicab” has “all the rights” of any other vehicle.  Cal. Vehicle Code Section 21200 This means that every biker has a right to ride on most roadways in California with the exception of certain freeways and highways and that cars must treat bicycles just like another automobile, truck or motorcycle and they must share the road.  As of This also means that bikes must obey all of the same traffic laws as everyone else on the thoroughfare. Furthermore, municipalities are allowed to restrict bike travel on sidewalks and often do so.
  2. Duty of Motorists to Provide A Safe Distance When Passing A Cyclist:  As of September, 2013, motor vehicle operators are required to provide a safe distance between their automobile and a person on a bicycle when they pass the cyclist. (AB-1371 – California Statutes) The mandated distance is three feet between the bike and the car but, motorized vehicles are allowed to provide less distance if they slow their speed and take other precautions not to hit the biker.  The so called “three foot rule” provides a standard by which passing maneuvers may be measured.
  3. Ride to the Right As Long As It is Safe but Ability to “Take The Lane” and Move Left If Necessary: Pedal-driven vehicles are obviously not as fast as motorized carriers.  For this reason, the law requires the bike to travel as far towards the right hand edge or curb as “practicable” but, only if this is safe to do so.   You are allowed to ride on the shoulder of the roadway but, are not required to do so.  The exceptions to this rule are as follows: When overtaking or passing another vehicle or bicycle traveling in the same direction.When preparing for a left hand turn at an intersection.– When it is “reasonably necessary” to avoid conditions such as “fixed or moving objects, other vehicles, pedestrians, animals, and surface hazards” like pot holes or grates.It should also be noted, however, that CVC 21656 requires slow moving vehicles of any type to pull off to a turnout or off the roadway and let cars pass if there are 5 or more backing up behind you.  In addition, a bike can move left within an intersection whenever a automobile turning right or left within the crossroad may intersect their path of travel. Cal. Vehicle Code Section 21202
  4. Requirement to Ride With The Flow of Traffic: Bikes must ride on the right half of the roadway with the flow of traffic.  Obviously, there is an exception on one way streets whereby one can ride on the left if that is the direction of travel, when preparing to make a left turn, when passing (as noted above) and when it is unsafe to ride right due to construction or repair of the road. Cal. Vehicle Code 21650
  5. Duty of Cars to Check Before Opening Doors: Collisions between bikes and open car doors are, unfortunately, more common than they should be.  For this reason, the law provides that car doors should not be open by the occupant unless and until it is safe to do so and should not be kept open any longer than necessary to load or unload. Cal. Vehicle Code 22517
  6. Bike Lanes: For a full discussion of Bike Paths and Bike Lane Safety, click hereCal. Vehicle Code 21208
  7. Ability to Turn Right or Left – Duty to SignalThe law allows bicycles to turn left from the turn lane or within an intersection and to move left when necessary (as discussed above) but, every person wishing to make a movement within lanes or to turn from one direction of travel to another is required to signal prior to doing so.  Bike riders, obviously, don’t usually have electronic turn signals and need to use hand signs. Cal. Vehicle Code Sections 22107 and 22111
  8. Duty to Use Proper Equipment and Helmet: Section 21201 requires all bikes to be equipped with brakes which enable the two wheeled vehicle to “make one braked wheel skid on dry, level, clean pavement”.  Section 21212 requires all riders under 18 to wear a helmet that meets Department of Transportation safety standards.  For adult riders, it is equally important to wear a helmet as brain injury is one of the leading causes of serious injury and death to cyclists.  In addition, if you intend to ride a bike on a roadway or sidewalk after dark the law requires that you use both a headlamp and reflectors as follows: a) a lamp emitting a white light visible for 300 feet in front of the bike; b) a red reflector on the rear visible from 500 feet; and c) a white or yellow reflective device on each pedal. Cal. Vehicle Code Sections 21201 and 21212.
  9. Don’t Ride Under the Influence It is illegal to ride a bike under the influence of alcohol or drugs as a bicycle is a “vehicle” within the meaning of the DUI statutes (Cal. Vehicle Code 23152).
  10. The “Common Law” of Negligence: An overall legal concept based upon California case law and long standing principles of tort law is that every person (in the case meaning both the motor vehicle operators and the bicyclists) are charged with a duty to act in a reasonable manner to prevent harm to others and to themselves.  For a full discussion of this concept click here.The Related Concept of Comparative FaultThe Golden State is a comparative negligence state.  This means that even though a bike rider may have some fault for the accident or their injuries (e.g. violating one of the rules of the road specified above or not wearing a helmet, etc.) they may still recover money damages from the driver but, this may be reduced by the biker’s percentage of fault.

To find out more a bicycle injury attorney can help you in California, contact us if you have been injured due to the negligence of another – free consultation and case evaluation – 1-866-252-0735