California Bicycle Laws: Everything You Need to Know

Annually in the State of California, about 100 bicycle riders die, and approximately 10,000 get injured in collisions or other accidents. These are tragic statistics that authors of California bicycle laws strive to reduce. Across the nation, the Centers for Disease Control reports that nearly 1,000 die and almost half a million suffer injuries.

This does not mean that bicycling is unsafe. Quite the contrary. For many, it is a safe and fun recreational pastime. An increasing number of individuals, however, use bicycles as part of their regular commute to work or to run errands. Either way, the number of bike riders on California roads and highways is increasing. All who use the roads should learn how to avoid accidents and also to obey state and local laws.

Accidents usually occur due to one of a few reasons. Sometimes motorists and/or bicyclists fail to pay attention. Other times they occur due to lack of skill or experience. Regardless of how the accident is caused, the cyclist often pays the greater physical price.

Often, however, accidents and injuries or death happen because either the motorist or the bicyclist did not understand the rules of the road. Although bicycle riders must follow most rules of the road applicable to automobiles, they also have a special set of laws necessary to follow to reduce the chance of accidents and resulting injury or death.

Those using bicycles need to understand that, just like motorists in automobiles, violation of laws and regulations can result in possible tickets and fines. Learn and obey the rules of the road to avoid tickets and fines, but most importantly, to stay safe.

Properly Wear Safety Equipment

Safety equipment is essential to protect the rider from injury or death during collisions or other types of accidents. Although bicycle riders suffer fatalities at a much higher ratio than motorists, the risk can be greatly reduced by using a helmet.

Not everyone has to use a helmet, however. Those 18 years of age and older are not required by law to wear helmets, although their use is recommended for everyone.

For best protection, make sure that the helmet straps are tight enough and that it is worn according to manufacturer specifications.

Rules to Follow When Riding a Bicycle in Traffic

While experts advise those walking along roadways to go against the flow of traffic so as to keep an eye on potential developments, this does not hold true for bicycles. Always ride these on the right side of a two-way road in the same direction as traffic.

What to Do When At an Intersection

Always remain alert to the flow of traffic through an intersection. Even if you obey every law correctly, be aware of motorists or others who may not be paying attention. Be especially aware of cars that may come through intersections, around blind curves, out of driveways, or from some other direction where they may not notice a bicycle.

The best way to avoid incidents is to not only remain aware of your surroundings, but to also memorize and utilize proper hand signals. These alert other drivers of your intentions and also are required by law.

The following are legally approved signals for use by bicyclists.

When signaling a left turn, first look behind you to scan for potential hazards. Next, extend your left arm directly out.

When signaling a right turn, hold your left arm up with elbow bent at a 90-degree angle.

Let others know when you are slowing down or stopping by extending your left arm down.

Other rules of the road to follow at intersections include:

  • Do not use sidewalks to cut around traffic except in cities or towns where bicycle use on them is legal.
  • Make left and right turns in the same fashion as drivers in the same turn lanes, except when directed to do otherwise by signs or special bicycle lanes.
  • When going through an intersection, use the through lanes designed for regular traffic instead of hugging curbs and disrupting right turn lanes.
  • Bicycles must always cede the right of way to pedestrians at marked or unmarked crosswalks. Pedestrians with white canes indicating visual disability have the right of way in all cases whatsoever.

As When Driving a Car, Obey All Traffic Signals and Signs

Always remember that bicyclists remain subject to almost all of the same laws and regulations as automobile drivers. These include obeying traffic lights and signs.

If you ride a bicycle the wrong way down a one-way street, fail to halt at a stop sign, or run a red light, you risk the same fines and tickets as your automobile driving counterparts.

Using Bicycle Lanes Properly and Safely

Bicycle lanes have been adopted by county, city, and other local governments around the nation as a common sense way to help motorists and cyclists share the road safely. They can either be placed in the middle of the road or, more often, along the sides.

You must use the designated bicycle lane where available if you are traveling slower than the rate of traffic. The only exceptions to the rule include making a left turn, avoiding hazardous driving conditions, or when approaching a right turn area.

Different Laws cover High-Speed Electric Bicycles and Mopeds

Although they may look similar, high-speed electric bicycles and mopeds do not fall under the same laws as regular bicycles. If you are using one of these vehicles, make sure to check the relevant California state code guidelines.

Low-speed electric bicycles, however, do fall under the same legal guidelines as traditional bicycles. These can only achieve speeds of less than 20 miles per hour and are referred to as Type 1 or Type 2.

The California Department of Transportation posts signs in areas where riding electric bikes at any speed is forbidden. This includes most freeways.

Safe Night Cycling

Bicyclists often forget that motorists have much more difficulty discerning their presence at night. Even on moderately well-lit streets, motorists often will not see a bicyclist unless they are following California state law governing using a bicycle at night.

When riding at night, experts recommend wearing light colored or high visibility apparel, although this is not specifically required under the law.

The law does require that a bicycle used at night carries the proper equipment.  This includes:

  • A front lamp emitting a white light visible at 100 yards.
  • Rear reflector or blinking red light mounted on the backside of the vehicle visible from 500 feet away.
  • White or bright yellow reflector either on the cyclist’s shoes or on both pedals. It must be visible from 200 feet away.
  • White or yellow reflectors on front or rear wheels or reflective tires.

Bicyclists need to be even more aware of motorists and other obstacles at night.

What Roads Are Forbidden to Bicyclists

In California, bicycles are generally not permitted on either freeways or toll bridges. Freeways especially are considered unsafe due to automobiles able to reach legal speeds of between 50 and 70 miles per hour, reducing their ability to react in time to miss a slow-moving bicycle.

That being said, some freeways have designated bicycle lanes. Those roads where bicyclists cannot travel will have signs clearly indicating that you cannot ride there.

Make Sure to Follow Equipment Regulations

Under the law, your bicycle is mandated to have the correct size and proper working equipment.

A bicycle’s equipment requirements, outside of those needed for night travel, are mostly related to the ratio of rider and vehicle. For example, a bicycle must be sized in such a way that the rider can stop, support the vehicle with one foot on the ground easily, and then start again with little or no difficulty.

Handlebars must not extend higher than the shoulders of the rider.

California state code also requires that the bicycle has working brakes.

What Is Illegal and Legal to Use While Operating a Bicycle

You may be surprised what the California state code allows and forbids bicycle riders to use while traveling down the road.

It should surprise no one reading this article that state law outlaws using a bicycle while intoxicated from the use of alcohol or drugs. Approximately 20 percent of those bicyclists involved in accidents have been intoxicated. Additionally, it is against the law for anyone riding a bike to have headphones in both ears. They also may not carry articles that take both hands off of the handlebars.

Oddly enough, bicyclists can still legally use their cell phones or other handheld devices while riding on the roadways. Keep an eye on this, however, because it could certainly change.

Don’t Let All of This Dissuade You From Cycling

Sure, you just read a long list of laws, rules, regulations, and warnings of what may happen if you do not comply.

Do not let that keep you from getting on your bike and enjoying the open road.

Bicycling is one of the best ways to get exercise and enjoy our wonderful California weather. In many traffic-choked cities, residents have found them much easier to use on a regular basis than automobiles.

When bicycle riders follow both California state law and common sense, riding a bicycle is easy, fun, and safe.

Safety Tips On Cycling From Experts Who Know

The American Automobile Association (AAA) offers a number of tips to advise bicyclists on how to stay safe on the road.  These include:

  • Keep your head up and eyes focused on the road ahead or potential issues to either side. Resist the temptation to look down.
  • The rider capacity on any bicycle is always one. Additional riders compromise safety and put everyone in danger.
  • When riding with others, maintain a single file configuration and make sure to maintain safe following distance.
  • Sometimes this cannot be helped, such as when you use your bicycle for a work commute, but safety experts urge that riders avoid peak traffic times when riding.
  • Keep your bike well maintained. Check the lubricant on the chains, the thickness of brake pads, and the inflation of tires on a regular basis.
  • Plan ahead on long bicycle road trips. Drive the route first, especially in hilly or mountainous areas, to check for safety issues.
  • Watch out for slippery or rough surfaces. Cut grass or leaves can be extremely dangerous when wet.
  • Avoid riding across unknown objects that can create dangerous and unpredictable situations.
  • Except when signaling, keep both hands on handlebars at all times.
  • As you approach an intersection, stop, look left, look right, look left, then proceed if safe.

Also make sure to check on local laws, rules, and regulations. Some local governments will have different requirements over and above those in the state code. Remember that ignorance of laws, even those enforced locally, is rarely considered an excuse.

Reach Out For More Information

If you have suffered an accident and sustained injuries while riding your bike and it was someone else’s fault, we at the Quirk Law Firm are here to help. We are the top choice in Los Angeles for personal injury claims and issues. Our clients choose us because our team of lawyers combines real world experience, traditional fundamentals, and a progressive mindset. This foundation of principles and a determination to fight for the client means that we give you the best shot to get the just claim that you deserve.

Bicycle accidents are different than auto in that those on bicycles are far more likely to have heavy medical rather than property costs. The Quirk Law Firm has years of experience protecting cyclists and many others from the results of an accident in which they are not at fault. Only an experienced lawyer can protect your rights. After an accident, reach out to us as soon as possible to learn about your rights and how the law can protect you.

Contact us by phone at our Los Angeles, San Diego, or Las Vegas office or send us a confidential email for a free consultation.