A Summer Overview of California’s Bicycle Laws
Michael Rubinstein, Esq.
Summer is here!
With warmer weather and longer days, more and more bike riders are heading outdoors to enjoy their time on two wheels. It’s a perfect time for a refresher on the relevant laws pertaining to bicycle riding in California. Here they are, in no particular order.
In California, any cyclist under the age of 18 must wear a helmet while riding.
In fact, California law is so concerned with the safety of children, skateboarders and scooter riders under 18 must also wear helmets.
I personally witnessed a young child who was on his scooter and fell hard on the sidewalk. His head was the first part of his body that made contact with the ground. Thankfully he was wearing his helmet. Make sure your child does, too.
Many people continue to be confused by this. Bicycle riders must stop at stop signs! I have had cyclists call my office after being cited by police for failing to stop at stop signs. It’s the law. Follow it.
Sidewalk riding is controversial, and there’s a lot of confusion about it, even among attorneys. California does not prohibit sidewalk riding on a state-wide level. Instead, each particular city throughout the state regulates sidewalk riding. This has led to a hodgepodge of local laws where some cities outlaw sidewalk riding, and other cities permit it.
In the City of Los Angeles, the Municipal Code allows sidewalk riding provided that the rider does not ride in wanton disregard for the safety of others. What does that mean? You’re in good company if you have no idea.
Some examples I’ve witnessed myself might shed light on this: Two people racing down La Brea Avenue side-by-side would probably be riding in wanton disregard for the safety of others. But someone riding slowly and cautiously would probably be okay.
The California Court of Appeal acknowledged the confusion surrounding sidewalk riding a few years ago. It called upon the legislature to clarify the rules, but there have still been no changes.
Most problems that lead to bicycle collisions happen when riders ride on the sidewalk against the flow of traffic. That’s because cars exiting parking lots are not expecting a bicyclist to zoom by from right to left. Instead, most drivers have their vision trained on their left to exit the driveway or parking lot to merge into traffic.
While it currently might not be illegal to ride on the sidewalk against the flow of traffic in Los Angeles, it still can be dangerous. Please be careful.
Doesn’t a bicyclist have to ride to the right of traffic? Does it bother you when a bicyclist takes up a whole lane, slowing down traffic?
The law is probably on the bicyclist’s side. California requires a cyclist who is riding slower than surrounding traffic to ride to the right. However, cyclists can take up a whole lane if hazards are present and they affect the safety of the rider. For example, a parked car door might suddenly open, leading the cyclist to want to avoid that lane for safety concerns. And potholes are very common in Los Angeles and pose a serious threat to cyclists.
I have represented cyclists who have been doored, and believe me, they can cause devastating injuries.
Bottom line: Yes, cyclists have to use bicycle lanes. But changing traffic or roadway conditions can support a cyclist’s decision to ride in a lane used by vehicles, too.
Three Feet for Safety Act
California law recently changed. It is now illegal for a car to pass a cyclist unless there is a minimum of three feet clearance between the car and bike. This law is especially important because the California DMV estimates that 100 cyclists are killed each year in collisions caused by passing cars. That’s 100 too many. Cyclists can help avoid these types of collisions by riding straight, not weaving, and by being predictable.
As you can tell, California law affects nearly every aspect of a bicycle rider’s time on his/her bike. It’s important for both cyclists and drivers to be aware of these important rules as we head into summer.
To make it easy to remember important bicycle safety tips, my office provides free handouts explaining many of the above rules. Call or email to get your free handout!
Michael Rubinstein is a Los Angeles based personal injury and accident attorney. He may be reached by visiting http://www.rabbilawyer.com, or by calling 213-293-6075.