California has more bicycle accidents than any other state with 338 cyclists killed in crashes with vehicles between 2010 and 2012 alone, according to a report by the Governors Highway Safety Association. Like many states, California has introduced many laws in an attempt to protect bicyclists sharing the road with vehicles.
The California Vehicle Code contains state laws that specify how cars as well as bicycles must operate. Bicyclists have the same responsibilities and rights as vehicle drivers in California, but there are a few additional rules bicyclists should understand.
Bicyclists Can “Take the Lane”
The California Vehicle Code specifies where cyclists can ride. Under California law, bicyclists can ride wherever they want if they are moving the same speed as traffic. When a bicyclist is moving slower than traffic, he or she is still allowed to “take the lane.” California traffic code states that bicyclists should ride as far to the right side as possible as except in these cases:
- Avoiding a hazard
- The lane is too narrow to share
- The bicyclist is preparing to make a left turn
- The bicyclist is passing
- The bicyclist is approaching an area where right turns are allowed
The bicyclist’s right to “take the lane” is one of the most misunderstood rights of bicyclists and it leads to many accidents. Many drivers and even law enforcement fail to understand this right and prepare for it on the road.
Bicyclists Usually Need to Use the Bike Lane
When a road has a bike lane, bicyclists need to use it if they are traveling slower than traffic. Bicyclists have the right to leave the bike lane when they are avoiding a hazard, making a left turn, passing, or approaching an area where right turns are allowed.
Bicyclists Must Ride With Traffic
A leading cause of bicycle accidents in California is bicyclists who fail to ride on the right side of the road. Bicyclists are required to travel on the right side of the road in the direction of traffic except when riding on a one-way street, riding on a narrow road, when the right side is closed for construction, or to make a left turn.
Bicyclists Can Sometimes Ride on the Sidewalk
In California, each city and town makes its own rules about whether bicyclists can ride on a sidewalk. Los Angeles allows bicyclists to use the sidewalk except when it’s done with a disregard for the safety of others and property.
Bicycles Must Have Reflectors and a Headlight at Night
The California Vehicle Code has rules about reflectors and lights for night use:
- Bicycles used at night must have a red reflector on the back, white or yellow reflectors on each pedal or the bicyclist’s shoes, white or yellow reflectors on the front half of the bicycle, and red or white reflectors on each side of the back half of the reflector.
- A white headlight visible from the front must be used when the bicycle is used at night.
Helmet Laws in California
California helmet law requires a helmet for any bicyclist under the age of 18. The helmet must be fastened and fitted and meet the standards of the American National Standards Institute, the American Society for Testing Materials, or the Snell Memorial Foundation.
It’s also important to note that if a bicyclist does not wear a helmet and gets hurt in a collision with a vehicle, the lack of a helmet cannot be used as proof of the bicyclist’s liability.
Alcohol and Drug Use is Prohibited
Riding a bicycle home to avoid a DUI is insufficient; under California law, it’s illegal for bicyclists to ride under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Research also suggests that about one-fifth of bicyclists killed in traffic collisions have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher, which is the legal limit.
Bicyclists and Pedestrians
Bicyclists are required to yield the right of way to pedestrians in marked crosswalks and unmarked crosswalks at intersections. Bicyclists are also required to yield the right of way to visually impaired pedestrians who have a guide dog or white cane.