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California Bicycle Laws: What You Need to Know

How much do you know about California bicycle laws? Every driver on California’s roads and highways needs to know something about bicycle law. Even if you aren’t a bicycle rider, you have to share the roads with lots of people who are. What you know about the state’s bicycle laws can prevent accidents. These laws are designed to protect bicycle riders from injury and car drivers being on the wrong end of a personal injury lawsuit.

What California Bicycle Laws Do

The California Vehicle Code specifies where bikes can go and how riders must operate them. The laws are based on how safe you will be driving alongside vehicles that are much heavier and which travel much faster than you. When everyone knows what is expected, there’s less chance that something will go wrong.

bike lane

A Bicycler’s Right to ‘Take the Lane’

As long as you are moving as fast as traffic, you can ride anywhere that you want to go. When you’re moving slower than traffic, the law still permits you to ‘take the lane.’ Make sure you stay as close to the right side of the road as you can unless you are turning left or avoiding a road hazard. This rule doesn’t apply in an authorized right turning lane or if there’s not enough room to share the lane with a vehicle.

Many California drivers don’t realize that bikers have the legal right to ‘take the lane.’ Even law enforcement officers are sometimes in the dark about this law. If you have problems or an accident, contact a personal injury attorney to learn more about your legal rights and your options.

If you travel slower than traffic and there’s a bike lane, you must use it. Exceptions include making a left turn or nearing a place where you can make an authorized right turn. You also have the right to pass other bikers and to avoid any hazardous road conditions.

People often debate whether it’s better to ride with traffic or to go in the opposite direction. Some believe the latter will keep you alerted to any approaching danger. According to California bicycle laws, you must always ride on the right side of the road in the direction of traffic. Exceptions to this law including riding on a one-way street, when the right lane is closed due to construction, or if the road is too narrow.

Different Laws for Mopeds & High-Speed Electric Bicycles (E-Bikes)

Mopeds and Class III e-bikes are different than regular bicycles. They are capable of speeds of up to 28 mph, making them more dangerous to other bikers. You can ride these specialized bikes in bicycle lanes or separated bikeways alongside the road, but not on trails, bike paths, or lanes. The only exception is that local authorities can make exceptions to this law at their discretion. Both types of bikes require helmets and can only be operated by people aged 16 years and older.

Class I and Class II electric bikes are nearly the same as regular bikes. They are permitted anywhere other bikes are allowed unless specifically prohibited. No type of bicycle, either regular or motorized, is permitted on freeways and expressways. They are also prohibited from crossing toll bridges unless specifically permitted.

Riding on Sidewalks

Whether or not bicycles belong on the sidewalks is often a matter of debate. Sometimes, it becomes the topic of a heated debate! The law isn’t the same for the entire state, making it somewhat more confusing. It’s up to the individual cities and counties to determine whether bicycles are permitted on the sidewalks.

Bicyclists sometimes think it’s safer to ride on the sidewalk than on the road. But many experts say the opposite is true. It puts you at a greater risk of being struck by vehicles pulling out of driveways. You might not be visible to the driver when they pull out. It only takes a second to hit you from the side. It takes longer for a car to overtake you when you’re riding on the side of the road in the same direction.

Sometimes sidewalks aren’t in the best of conditions. Irregular pavements, debris, drains, and a lot of pedestrians can all contribute to the dangers for you and for others. Remember that pedestrians always have the right-of-way at crosswalks or intersections. Those who are blind or partially blind and carry a white cane or have a guide dog always have the right-of-way.

Some areas have signs indicating whether bicycles are allowed on the sidewalk. Some cities only prohibit bicycles on sidewalks on certain streets. A better option might be to go over another street or two where there’s less traffic or no restrictions on riding on the sidewalk. To learn more about bicycle laws and programs in your area, contact Caltrans. The organization is currently working through their State Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan to triple bicycling trips by 2020.

What California Bicycle Laws Say About Equipping Your Bike

In addition to specifying where and how you ride your bike, the laws also determine how your bicycle is equipped. Like cars, bicycles need to be in good working order and comfortable enough for the rider to use all the features.

Brakes – The bike you ride on public roads is all about function; not fashion. All bicycles must have a brake that facilitates a one-braked-wheel skid on dry, level, clean pavement. Fixed gear bikes that are growing in popularity are made to ride without brakes. These bikes are not permitted on California roads.

Handlebars – The handlebars cannot be higher than your shoulders.

Size – A bike that is too big or too small is dangerous for you and others. You must be able to stop and support the bike with one foot on the ground.

Lights & Reflectors – If you plan to ride your bike at night, you must attach a white headlight that is visible to the front either to the bicycle or to you. In addition, you must have reflectors that are visible:

– From the back, a solid or flashing red reflector

– From the front & back, a white or yellow reflector on each pedal or on your shoes or ankles

– From each side, a white or yellow reflector on the front half, and a red or white reflector on the back half (The exception to the law is that bikes with reflectorized front & back tires don’t require these reflectors.)

Seats – Your bike must have a permanent, regular seat. (The exception to this law is for bicycles designed by manufacturers to be ridden without a seat. Also, any passenger who weighs less than 40 pounds must have a seat that holds them in place and protects them from the moving parts of the bicycle.)


Operating Your Bicycle

Nothing contributes to the safety of your bicycle more than the way you operate it. California bicycle laws require every rider under the age of 18 years to wear an approved helmet. You can’t wear headphones or earplugs in both ears.

One major difference between laws on bicycling and driving other vehicles is that you can legally use a handheld cell phone while riding. Although there isn’t the same speed to worry about with texting while driving, it’s still not a good idea to take your eyes off where you are riding. Road hazards, pedestrians, other bicyclists, and nearby traffic all pose a serious risk of causing injuries. Another type of distracted driving is driving under the influence. You are not permitted to ride your bike while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

You aren’t allowed to give other bicyclists rides or hitch a ride on someone else’s bike. Also, don’t carry any items that prevent you from keeping one hand on the handlebars at all times. If you need to carry items with you, consider investing in a cargo holder, tote, or other accessories for your bicycle. Make sure you never let your bicycle get in other people’s way. The law prohibits bicyclists from parking their bikes on the sidewalk or any place where they pose a risk to pedestrians.

A Step Beyond the Law

Becoming familiar with California bicycle laws is one way we can all make California’s roads and highways safer. Over 100 bicyclists are killed every year in this state alone! An additional 10,000 get injured, sometimes due to the bicyclists’ behavior and other times due to that of the motorist.

Bicyclists have similar rights as motor vehicle drivers on the roads. They must follow the rules related to bicycles and those for other motorists as well. If the motor vehicle and bicyclist have different ideas about who has the right-of-way, an accident is much more likely to happen. Everyone should be aware of the rules in the California Driver Handbook. It isn’t only the bicyclist’s responsibility. It is one that every driver shares.

Bicyclists should also take a common sense approach to riding their bike. If you can avoid riding during times when traffic is heaviest, you can reduce your risk of being in an accident. Always wear a helmet that fits, and make sure you wear it correctly. Pay attention to what you wear and make yourself as visible as possible. Pay attention to what is around you at all times. Watch for debris in the road that could cause you to wreck.

Never assume that other drivers see you. This is especially true when there is heavy rain or snow obstructing their view. When driving by parked cars, leave enough room between you and the vehicles to avoid getting struck by opening doors. The occupant might not see you coming.

Your bicycle is your biggest piece of safety equipment. Take good care of your bicycle and provide maintenance when needed. Keep your tires inflated and check to make sure that the seat is securely fastened. Provide oil to the moving parts to keep them lubricated.

Where Most Bicycle Accidents Happen

Most people think that most bicycle accidents occur in the city. Large volumes of traffic and higher numbers of bicyclists per area seemingly increase the risk of having an accident. But nearly half of all bicycle deaths happen on rural roads. The majority happen to adults during the daytime.

Nearly two-thirds of all bicycling deaths occur in collisions at or near a road junction. Experts recognize intersections as the most dangerous places for bicyclists. Many of these deaths are preventable if more drivers and bicyclists knew the California bicycling laws and observed them.

The statistics related to bicycling deaths is accurate. Those resulting in serious injuries are probably under-reported. Often, people injured in bicycle accidents seek treatment at the hospital and go home. The accidents aren’t reported or recorded. That means the number of serious bicycle-related injuries could be significantly higher than believed.

What to Do If You Have a Serious Bicycle Accident

The bicycles laws in California are meant to make it safer to ride bicycles anywhere in the state. But there are always drivers who aren’t familiar with the laws or who break other driving laws and make it dangerous. It only takes a minor distraction for the driver of a car to strike a bicycle. When it does, the results are often severe. There’s nothing to protect the bicyclist from the impact.

If you get injured while riding your bicycle, it can impact every area of your life. You may require extensive medical treatment and time off from work. You can have pain and suffering due to your injuries, and trauma from the accident itself. If another driver caused your injuries, you have the right to financial compensation.

Contact Krasney Law for a complementary consultation. We can help you with your claim to get compensation from the responsible driver. The California bicycling laws are in place to protect people like you. You shouldn’t have to pay for someone else’s negligence or indifference to the law. As a bicyclist, you have the same rights that motor vehicle drivers do. Let us help you protect your rights!

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