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Bicycling Laws in California and Accident Liability

California Bicycling Laws Help Establish Liability for Personal Injuries

There are many bicycling laws in California, including those that establish the duties and responsibilities of bicyclists and the duties and responsibilities of motor vehicle drivers operating their vehicles in proximity to bicycles. Many of these laws may have direct application to establishing liability for personal injuries that may result from collisions between bicyclists, automobiles, and/or pedestrians. It’s important as a user of California roadways — whether in a car, on a bike, or on foot — to be aware of these rules.

When an accident occurs involving a bicyclist in which someone sustains personal injuries, determining who was or was not obeying the applicable rules of the road can be a major factor in determining liability — legal responsibility — for the injuries and damages that resulted from the incident. In helping to point out the duty of care (and failure to observe that duty) that one person on the roadway owes to another, these rules of the road can help prove negligence on the part of a driver or bicyclist.

Additionally, the mere fact that one of these rules of the road was violated may be sufficient to establish negligence per se, a somewhat different theory of liability that only requires that a safety-related law was violated to establish liability, rather than needing to establish a defendant’s awareness of duty and failure to act reasonably to prove liability.

General Traffic Laws that Apply to Bicyclists

Most of the laws governing the use of bicycles on California roadways are contained one large section of the California Vehicle Code entitled “Operation of Bicycles,” at the beginning of section 21200 of the code.

And what is perhaps the single most important rule for bicyclists is the first one listed in section 21200, which says that bicyclists on California roads have all the same rights and responsibilities as the drivers of vehicles for following the rules of the road.

This includes observing stop signs and signals, not bicycling while intoxicated, and yielding to pedestrians in marked and unmarked crosswalks (Vehicle Code 21954). On the matter of crosswalks, the question of whether or not it is legal to ride a bicycle in a crosswalk — that is in the same directions as pedestrians would be using it, rather than riding across the crosswalk — it is probably safest to walk a bicycle when using a crosswalk rather than riding it. In that situation, there is no doubt that the individual would be considered a pedestrian and have the additional rights and right-of-way that is afforded to pedestrians. Conversely, many cities have local ordinances against riding a bicycle in a crosswalk. A bicyclist would certainly still be obligated to yield right-of-way within the crosswalk to a pedestrian under state laws.

Specific Rules for Bicyclists

Bicycling laws in California that apply specifically to bicyclists include these sections of the California Vehicle Code (CVC):

  • CVC 21200.5 Unlawful to ride a bicycle while intoxicated and establishes a $250 fine for conviction.
  • CVC 21201 Requires adequate safety equipment, including proper brakes, handlebars, and bicycle size. Bicycling at night requires a lamp visible 300 feet ahead of the bike, a red reflector or light visible 500 feet behind the bicycle, white or yellow reflectors on the pedal, ankle, or shoe visible 200 feet away, and white or yellow reflectors on the sides or tires of the bicycle.
  • CVC 21202 Requires a bicycle that is being ridden on a roadway at less than the speed of traffic on the road to be operated as close as is practicable to the right curb or roadway edge, except under specific conditions.
  • CVC 21204 Requires proper seats for a bicyclist and any passenger.
  • CVC 21208 Requires the use of a bicycle lane that may be present in most situations.
  • CVC 21212 Requires a proper helmet for bicyclists under 18 years old. (While adult bicyclists are not legally required to wear a helmet, please do. It’s simply common sense and can help prevent death or serious brain injuries.)
  • CVC 21650.1 Requires that a bicyclist on a roadway or road shoulder proceed in the same direction as required for vehicles, for example, on one-way streets.

The “Three Feet for Safety Act”

In addition to the laws that regulate bicyclists, a recent addition to the California Vehicle Code is specifically designed to improve bicyclist safety by imposing a new rule on drivers. This is referred to as the “Three Feet for Safety Act” and is codified in section 21670.

This law requires that:

  • A driver must provide a three-foot safety distance between their vehicle and a bicycle when passing it; and
  • If the three-foot distance can’t be provided due to road or traffic conditions, the driver must slow to a reasonable and prudent speed and then pass the bicyclist only when doing so would not endanger the bicyclist’s safety.

See some bicycle safety tips in this video from BikeBlogger:

Sacramento Personal Injury Lawyer

Thanks for reading this discussion of bicycling laws in California and how they may apply to personal injury incidents. I am Ed Smith, and I’ve been a Sacramento personal injury lawyer since 1982. As a lawyer with many years of experience representing personal injury victims from many types of incidents, including bicycle accidents, I encourage you to call us if you or a loved one has been injured due to someone’s negligence. To talk with our skilled injury attorneys and receive free, friendly advice, please call us at (916) 921-6400 or toll-free at (800) 404-5400. You can also reach us on our online contact form too.

For more information about us, including some of our client reviews and results in past cases, go to:

Photo Attribution: Brent Olson from Pixabay.

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