Trisha Shetty (Editor)

Bicycle law in California

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Bicycle law in California is the parts of the California Vehicle Code that set out the law for persons cycling in California, and a subset of bicycle law in the United States.

Contents

General applicability of road rules

CVC 21200 states that the rules of the road, set out in Division 11 of the California Vehicle Code, that do not specifically apply only to motor vehicles are applicable to cyclists. Police officers riding bicycles are exempt from the provisions when they are responding to an emergency call, engaged in rescue operations, or in immediate pursuit of a suspect.

Laws Applicable to Bicycle Use

21200. (a) Every person riding a bicycle upon a highway has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this division... except those provisions which by their very nature can have no application.

On-road

CVC 21650 sets the on-road position for all vehicles, including bicycles.

Right Side of Roadway

21650. Upon all highways, a vehicle shall be driven upon the right half of the roadway...

Cyclists are allowed but never required to ride on the shoulder. CVC 530 defines the "roadway" as "that portion of a highway improved, designed, or ordinarily used for vehicular travel". The on-road position of cyclists is narrowed by CVC 21202, which requires riding "as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway" except in certain circumstances.

Operation on Roadway

21202. A. Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except under any of the following situations:

  1. When overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction.
  2. When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.
  3. When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions (including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or substandard width lanes) that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge, subject to the provisions of Section 21656. For purposes of this section, a "substandard width lane" is a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.
  4. When approaching a place where a right turn is authorized.

The wording shall ride as close as practicable to the right is sometimes misunderstood by police officers as well as cyclists.

CVC 21650.1 clarifies that cyclists, unlike drivers of vehicles, are generally not prohibited from riding on the shoulder of the road.

Bicycle Operated on Roadway or Highway Shoulder

21650.1. A bicycle operated on a roadway, or the shoulder of a highway, shall be operated in the same direction as vehicles are required to be driven upon the roadway.

CVC Section 21960 authorizes local authorities to prohibit or restrict the use of bicycles on freeways.

Freeways and Expressways Use Restrictions

21960. (a) The Department of Transportation and local authorities, by order, ordinance, or resolution, with respect to freeways, expressways, or designated portions thereof under their respective jurisdictions, to which vehicle access is completely or partially controlled, may prohibit or restrict the use of the freeways, expressways, or any portion thereof by pedestrians, bicycles or other nonmotorized traffic or by any person operating a motor-driven cycle, motorized bicycle, or motorized scooter.

Where bike lanes exist on roadways, CVC 21208 requires cyclists to use them, except under certain conditions. There is no requirement to ride in a bike lane or path that is not on the roadway.

Permitted Movements from Bicycle Lanes

21208. (a) Whenever a bicycle lane has been established on a roadway pursuant to Section 21207, any person operating a bicycle upon the roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time shall ride within the bicycle lane, except that the person may move out of the lane under any of the following situations:

  1. When overtaking and passing another bicycle, vehicle, or pedestrian within the lane or about to enter the lane if the overtaking and passing cannot be done safely within the lane.
  2. When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.
  3. When reasonably necessary to leave the bicycle lane to avoid debris or other hazardous conditions.
  4. When approaching a place where a right turn is authorized.

(b) No person operating a bicycle shall leave a bicycle lane until the movement can be made with reasonable safety and then only after giving an appropriate signal in the manner provided in Chapter 6 (commencing with Section 22100) in the event that any vehicle may be affected by the movement.

There is no requirement in the California but side-by-side riding may be regulated by local ordinance.

Off-road

CVC 21100 sets out that "Local authorities may adopt rules and regulations... regarding the ... Operation of bicycles, and, as specified in Section 21114.5, electric carts by physically disabled persons, or persons 50 years of age or older, on the public sidewalks." Under this provision, many California cities have banned sidewalk cycling in business districts.

Movement

CVC 22107 requires cyclists to yield and signal before moving left or right.

Turning Movements and Required Signals

22107. No person shall turn a vehicle from a direct course or move right or left upon a roadway until such movement can be made with reasonable safety and then only after the giving of an appropriate signal in the manner provided in this chapter in the event any other vehicle may be affected by the movement.

CVC 21656 specifies that slow-moving vehicles causing a queue of five or more vehicles behind them must turn off the roadway in order to allow the vehicles behind to pass them. Section 21202 explicitly states that cyclists are "subject to the provisions of Section 21656".

Turning Out of Slow-Moving Vehicles

21656. On a two-lane highway where passing is unsafe because of traffic in the opposite direction or other conditions, a slow-moving vehicle, including a passenger vehicle, behind which five or more vehicles are formed in line, shall turn off the roadway at the nearest place designated as a turnout by signs erected by the authority having jurisdiction over the highway, or wherever sufficient area for a safe turnout exists, in order to permit the vehicles following it to proceed. As used in this section a slow-moving vehicle is one which is proceeding at a rate of speed less than the normal flow of traffic at the particular time and place.

CVC 21760 requires motor vehicles to leave a 3-foot margin while passing a cyclist if possible.

Three Feet for Safety Act

21760. (a) This section shall be known and may be cited as the Three Feet for Safety Act. (b) The driver of a motor vehicle overtaking and passing a bicycle that is proceeding in the same direction on a highway shall pass in compliance with the requirements of this article applicable to overtaking and passing a vehicle, and shall do so at a safe distance that does not interfere with the safe operation of the overtaken bicycle, having due regard for the size and speed of the motor vehicle and the bicycle, traffic conditions, weather, visibility, and the surface and width of the highway. (c) A driver of a motor vehicle shall not overtake or pass a bicycle proceeding in the same direction on a highway at a distance of less than three feet between any part of the motor vehicle and any part of the bicycle or its operator. (d) If the driver of a motor vehicle is unable to comply with subdivision (c), due to traffic or roadway conditions, the driver shall slow to a speed that is reasonable and prudent, and may pass only when doing so would not endanger the safety of the operator of the bicycle, taking into account the size and speed of the motor vehicle and bicycle, traffic conditions, weather, visibility, and surface and width of the highway. (e) (1) A violation of subdivision (b), (c), or (d) is an infraction punishable by a fine of thirty-five dollars ($35). (2) If a collision occurs between a motor vehicle and a bicycle causing bodily injury to the operator of the bicycle, and the driver of the motor vehicle is found to be in violation of subdivision (b), (c), or (d), a two-hundred-twenty-dollar ($220) fine shall be imposed on that driver. (f) This section shall become operative on September 16, 2014.

Cyclist's Duties to Other Cyclists, Pedestrians, Runners, and Self

It is arguably legal for cyclists to race each other on open public roads in California if that is safe at the time under the circumstances. In traffic, or where visibility is limited (rain, fog, wooded areas, curvy roads), racing would be arguably negligent and unlawful. Drafting and passing cars or bikes or runners with less than a 3-foot margin arguably violates the 3-feet for safety law, when read in conjunction with CVC 21200(a), which provides: "Every person riding a bicycle upon a highway... is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this division... except those provisions which by their very nature can have no application." Under the common law in California, all vehicle operators (including bike operators) have a general duty to use reasonable care to avoid collisions with other cyclists, cars, runners and pedestrians, Even in a bike lane, the cyclist is not free to ignore the 3-foot rule (which helps flesh out the general duty of care) when passing other cyclists, runners, pedestrians or cars, since it is not the case that runners and pedestrians (for example) are always prohibited by the CVC from sharing a bike lane. The 3-feet for safety law indicates a bike rider would be deemed negligent (in violation of the general duty of care) if he or she did not abide by the 3-foot standard when passing runners, other cyclists, cars, or pedestrians.

Equipment requirements

A bicycle ridden on public roads must have a brake on at least one wheel which can make the wheel skid on dry pavement.

Bicycles ridden at night must have the following equipment:

  • A white front lamp (either attached to the bike or to the rider) which can be seen from 300 feet (91 m) away.
  • A red rear safety reflector visible from 500 feet (150 m) away when illuminated by automobile headlights.
  • White or yellow reflectors visible from on the bike's pedals or the cyclist's feet or ankles.
  • A white or yellow reflector on each side of the bike's front half.
  • A white or red reflector on each side of the bike's back half.
  • Bicycle helmets for minors

    CVC 21212 requires cyclists under the age of 18 to wear helmets.

    Youth Bicycle Helmets: Minors

    21212 (a) A person under 18 years of age shall not operate a bicycle, a nonmotorized scooter, or a skateboard, nor shall they wear in-line or roller skates, nor ride upon a bicycle, a nonmotorized scooter, or a skateboard as a passenger, upon a street, bikeway, as defined in Section 890.4 of the Streets and Highways Code, or any other public bicycle path or trail unless that person is wearing a properly fitted and fastened bicycle helmet that meets the standards of either the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) or the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), or standards subsequently established by those entities.

    Under CVC 21100(a) local authorities may adopt ordinances for the purpose of "Regulating or prohibiting processions or assemblages on the highways."

    Possibility of licensing

    CVC 39002 allows local authorities to implement mandatory licensing for bicycles and prohibit unlicensed riding.

    39002. (a) A city or county, which adopts a bicycle licensing ordinance or resolution, may provide in the ordinance or resolution that no resident shall operate any bicycle, as specified in the ordinance, on any street, road, highway, or other public property within the jurisdiction of the city or county, as the case may be, unless the bicycle is licensed in accordance with this division.

    (b) It is unlawful for any person to tamper with, destroy, mutilate, or alter any license indicia or registration form, or to remove, alter, or mutilate the serial number, or the identifying marks of a licensing agency's identifying symbol, on any bicycle frame licensed under this division.

    References

    Bicycle law in California Wikipedia


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