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California Expands Law on Motorists Passing Bicycles

bicycle-accident-attorneys-Los-AngelesMany Californians enjoy bicycling as a fun recreational activity, an opportunity to get exercise while enjoying the outdoors, and as a means of transportation. As cycling has increased in popularity in the last few years because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of bicycle accidents and resulting injuries have sharply increased. An Oct. 2021 report by the American College of Surgeons found that trauma caused by bicycle accidents surged by 100% during pandemic-related lockdowns.

Some of the dangers involved with riding bicycles can be attributed to sharing the roads with motor vehicles. Both cyclists and motorists must understand the rules of the road and their responsibilities while riding or driving. To try to curb the number of bicycle accidents and their resulting injuries and fatalities, the California Legislature recently passed a bill that aims to protect bicyclists and decrease the danger that they will be involved in accidents. This law became effective on Jan. 1, 2023. Here’s some information about the new law and its impact on the rights and responsibilities of motorists who share the roads with bicyclists.

Bicycle Accident Statistics

According to the National Safety Council (NSC), bicycle-related fatalities increased by 16% in 2020 to a total of 1,260 preventable bicycle accident deaths during that year. In the 10 years before 2020, the increase in bicycle deaths was 44%. Preliminary estimates of the total number of bicycle-related fatalities in 2021 that were released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) were that bicycle fatalities increased by another 5% over 2020.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reports that 77% of bicycle accident fatalities in 2020 happened in urban areas. According to U.S. News and World Report, California is the 10th most dangerous state for bicyclists in terms of deaths per capita. On average, 11,000 bicyclists are injured and 160 are killed in California each year, and Los Angeles accounts for around 25% of the state’s bicycle fatalities.

California’s new Bicycle Omnibus Law is designed to reduce the number of bicycle accidents by making the roads safer for cyclists.

The Bicycle Omnibus Law

California AB 1909 was passed by the California Legislature on Aug. 23, 2022, and signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sept. 23, 2022. This law became effective on Jan. 1, 2023. This law addresses the duties of motorists when they overtake and pass bicyclists in addition to a few other changes as described below.

Expansion of the Three-foot Rule While Passing

Under the previous law, motor vehicles were supposed to give bicyclists at least three feet of room when passing them but did not necessarily require cars to change lanes when passing bicycles. The legislature recognized the difficulty of judging how much room three feet is for motorists sharing the roads with cyclists. The new law adds to the room cars must provide cyclists when passing by requiring them to change lanes when an opening is available. The expansion from three feet to changing lanes when overtaking and passing bicycles should help to reduce the number of bicycle accidents caused by motorists mistaking the distance between their vehicles and bicycles.

E-bikes Allowed on Bicycle Paths

E-bicycles have become nearly ubiquitous in California’s traffic landscape with the proliferation of e-bike services such as Byrd and Lyft. Previously, e-bicycle riders were prohibited by many municipalities from riding these bikes on bicycle pathways. However, AB 1909 now allows e-bike riders to use bicycle paths. However, communities retain the right to restrict e-bicycle from certain areas, including hiking and equestrian trails. This provision opens up most bicycle paths to e-bike riders, which should help to reduce the number of accidents involving motor vehicles vs. e-bicycles by providing riders with safe places to ride.

Removal of Enforcement of Bicycle Licensing Ordinances

Another provision of the Bicycle Omnibus Law removes the ability of cities to enforce bicycle licensing ordinances. Some cities have ordinances that require cyclists to register their bicycles and purchase annual bicycle operating licenses. While enforcement of these ordinances has been uneven, there have been some instances of selective enforcement by local law enforcement against minorities. The cessation of bicycle licensing ordinance enforcement is designed to prevent this type of selective enforcement and allow people of color to avoid harassment while riding bicycles.

New Crossing Rule

Under the new law, bicyclists can cross at intersections with pedestrians when the walk signs are illuminated. Previously, bicyclists had to follow the traffic lights for motor vehicles to cross roads instead of the pedestrian walk signals. Under the new law, bicyclists can choose to cross the street with pedestrians when the walk signals are illuminated even when they differ from the traffic signals for motor vehicles. This provision is meant to increase the safety of cyclists when they cross busy streets by giving them a head start over motor vehicles. This provision will not be effective until Jan. 1, 2024.

Other California Bicycle Laws

Under California law, bicyclists are expected to understand their legal obligations and follow traffic rules. There are a number of laws that govern bicyclists and when and where they should ride, including the following:

  • Cal. Veh. Code 21202 – When cyclists are moving slower than surrounding traffic, they can take the lane when the lane is not wide enough for the bicyclist and a car to share it next to each other. Cyclists must ride to the right side of the road except when preparing to turn left, pass, or avoid hazards.
  • Cal. Veh. Code 21208 – Bicyclists who are moving slower than surrounding traffic should use bicycle lanes where they exist except when they are drawing near to an area where they are legally allowed to turn right, preparing to turn left, avoiding hazards, or passing.
  • Cal. Street and Hwy. Code 890.4d – Bicyclists do not have to use protected lanes that are separated from traffic.
  • Cal. Veh. Code 21650 – Cyclists must travel in the direction of traffic except when riding on overly narrow roads, one-way streets, or when the right-hand side is closed because of construction.
  • Cal. Veh. Code 21211 – Bicyclists can’t park bicycles on bicycle paths or stop and obstruct them.
  • Cal. Veh. Code 21206 – Counties and municipalities can regulate whether cyclists can ride on sidewalks.
  • Cal. Veh. Code 21960 – Bicyclists and e-bikers are prohibited from riding on expressways and freeways when doing so is prohibited by local authorities and the Department of Transportation.
  • Cal. Veh. Code 23330 – Bicyclists are prohibited from crossing toll bridges unless they are allowed to do so by the Department of Transportation.
  • Cal. Veh. Code 21200 – Bicyclists otherwise have the same duties and rights when operating their bikes on the roads as motorists.

Bicyclists are expected to understand and follow their legal obligations when they ride.

What to Do if You’re Injured in a Bicycle Accident

If you are injured in a bicycle accident with a motor vehicle, you should do the following things to protect your rights:

  • Call 911 or ask someone to call for you.
  • Assess yourself for injuries.
  • Get the motorist’s name, contact information, insurance information, license plate number, and the make and model of their vehicle.
  • Take pictures of the accident scene, the damage to the vehicle and your bike, debris on the road, and other relevant details. If you can’t take pictures because of your injuries, ask a bystander to take them for you.
  • Ask witnesses for their names and contact information so that they can be contacted later. Encourage them to remain to tell the police what happened.
  • Seek medical attention immediately, and follow any treatment recommendations you are given by your doctor.
  • Contact an experienced Los Angeles bicycle accident lawyer.

Potential Damages in a Bicycle Accident Claim

Damages are monetary amounts that are meant to compensate negligence victims for their economic and non-economic losses. The value of a bicycle accident claim can value based on case-specific factors. Some of the types of damages that might be available include the following:

  • Past and future medical expenses
  • Past and future wage losses
  • Bicycle damage and other property losses
  • Past and future pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress/trauma
  • Disfigurement/scarring
  • Disability
  • Loss of the enjoyment of life
  • Others

An experienced attorney can review your claim and help you understand the legal remedies that might be available.

Get Help from an attorney at the Steven M. Sweat, Personal Injury Lawyers, APC

If you were injured in a serious bicycle collision because of the negligent actions of a motorist, you should consult an experienced Los Angeles bicycle accident attorney at the law firm of Steven M. Sweat, Personal Injury Lawyers, APC. We have years of experience fighting for the rights of injured bicyclists and can advise you about your legal options. Call us today for a free consultation at 1-866-966-5240.

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