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Protecting California Bicyclists


California law gives bicyclists the same rights to use the roadways as motor vehicle motorists. Many drivers, however, do not know the law and believe that bicyclists must yield to them.

Drivers Biggest Threat to Bicyclists

Bicyclists face many threats on California roadways. Dangerous road conditions, such as potholes, uneven surfaces, and debris, can result in a serious injury or even death to a bike rider. Motor vehicle drivers, however, remain the biggest threat of all: California has some of the highest rates of bicycle accidents in the country, which is not surprising given the number of motor vehicles traveling on the state’s congested roadways. The California Department of Motor Vehicles estimates that more than 100 people are killed and thousands injured in motor vehicle-bicycle collisions each year.

Bicycle-car collisions commonly occur at intersections and may occur during lane changes, too, or when vehicles are entering traffic from private driveways or roads. The danger of these sorts of accidents increases at night, when bicyclists are less visible and are more likely to encounter a drunk driver.

Equal Right to the Road

Many drivers are unaware that bicycle riders’ right to use the road is protected by statute. As stated by the California Vehicle Code, “every person riding a bicycle upon a street or highway has all the rights and is subject to all the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle.”

Slower Traffic to the Right

Another common misconception is that bicyclists must ride on the shoulder of the road. Bike riders may use the shoulder if they wish, but they are not required to. Additionally, bike riders are not required to use bike paths or trails or ride on sidewalks. California law does require, however, that cyclists ride as far as practicable to the right-hand curb when traveling on two-lane roads and moving at a slower speed than the rest of traffic.

Note that bicyclists who are moving at the same speed as traffic are not required to ride on the far right-hand side, but may ride in the middle of the lane of traffic if they so choose. However, this is not always the safest position on the road for a rider to have, even if it is legally permissible.

Bike Lane Rules

Many drivers believe that if the road has a designated bike lane, then bike riders must use it. Under California law, this is not the case. Bicyclists are only required to use a designated bike lane if they are moving at a slower speed than the rest of the traffic.

When bike riders are using the bike lane, they still have the right to merge into the regular traffic lane if they are overtaking or passing another bicycle or vehicle, are preparing to make a left-hand turn or it is reasonably necessary to move out of the bike lane in order to avoid debris or another hazardous condition.

Other Laws

While California bicyclists have many rights when riding on the road, they are also subject to several noteworthy restrictions:

  • Drunk driving: Bicyclists are subject to all of the same traffic laws as motor vehicle drivers, including drunk driving laws. Riders who violate the law may be subject to a $250 fine and, if they are under the legal age limit, may have their driver’s license suspended.
  • Helmets: Any rider under the age of 18 is required to wear a helmet while riding a bicycle.
  • Night riding: Cyclists riding at night are required to equip their bicycles with headlamps, side reflectors, and rear reflectors to ensure they are visible to motorists.
  • Headsets/Earplugs: Bicyclists are not permitted to use headsets or wear earplugs in both ears while operating their bikes. Exceptions apply for those who must wear prosthetic hearing devices and certain motor vehicle operators.

Tips for Protecting Yourself

While there is nothing a bicyclist can do to control the behaviors and actions of motorists, there are actions a bicyclist can take to minimize the possibility of being involved in an accident.

Cyclists should:

  • Always wear a helmet to minimize the risk of head and brain injuries
  • Always be aware of traffic
  • Use appropriate hand signals before entering or leaving a lane of traffic
  • Ride at a reasonable speed
  • Watch for obstructions in the road or other dangerous conditions that could cause a fall
  • Never swerve into a lane of traffic and always check before entering a lane of traffic
  • Ride as closely as possible to the right-hand side of the road, but not so close as to collide with the curb or otherwise lose control of the bike
  • Not ride in traffic while listening to iPods or other devices
  • Be extra cautious at intersections and when making left-hand turns
  • Ride defensively and never expect another bicyclist or motorist to do the right thing

How an Attorney Can Help

If you have been involved in a bicycle accident, you may have legal options available to you. An attorney experienced in working with those who have been injured in bicycle accidents can review your case and help you choose the most appropriate action to take. Depending on your case, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries, including medical expenses and lost wages. Contact an experienced attorney for more information.