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Riding a bike in California is a great way to get around, get some exercise, and protect the environment. However, to bike safely, you need to know California bicycle laws and how they apply to you. Is it illegal to ride your bike on the sidewalk in California? How much room do motorized vehicles have to give you when passing your bike in California? What are some of the most common bicycle accident injuries, and what right do you have to receive compensation for them?
Here are some of California’s important bike laws and how they may impact you on the road.
Many California streets feature bike lanes set aside for cyclists, where you can move at your own pace and remain out of the flow of motorized traffic. They’re a great alternative to riding on the road, which can heighten your risk of getting hurt in a dangerous collision. By riding in the bike lane, you can move at your own pace and stay safe, while not impeding the flow of cars and trucks.
For that reason, when you have an accessible bike lane on the route you have chosen to travel, and you plan to ride at a pace that’s slower than motorized traffic, California law says that you must use the bike lane rather than riding in the road.
If, however, you plan to ride your bike at the same speed as motorized traffic flowing in the same direction, then you do not have to use the bike lane if you don’t want to.
Finally, all cyclists have the right to leave a bike lane if they need to avoid debris or hazards, or to make a left or right-hand turn, so long as they do so safely and following generally applicable traffic laws.
Bike lanes and paths often contain only enough room for one bicycle with safe passing room around it. To keep those lanes safe for all cyclists, you cannot stop or park your bike in a way that will impede or block the flow of other bicyclists around you. While, of course, you may make brief stops to check the safety of your equipment, make deliveries, or engage in other necessary tasks while out on the road, you must always take care not to leave your bike in a manner that obstructs the flow of any kind of traffic, bicycle or motorized.
Most motorized vehicles also cannot stop or park in bike lanes. Utility vehicles, garbage trucks, and official vehicles may do so, but only for as long as necessary to serve their function. Bike lanes are meant for bicyclists in California, and for the most part, they must remain free of vehicles and obstructions.
California state law leaves the decision about the legality of bicycles on sidewalks up to local governments. Before riding your bike on any sidewalk in California, check out local laws and ordinances to learn what’s legal, and what isn’t.
Most California cities that have adopted bicycle laws restrict or prohibit sidewalk riding in some manner, to ensure pedestrian safety. If you haven’t had the chance to check out local laws in the area you plan to ride, it’s usually safest to assume that you are not allowed to ride on a city sidewalk. If you must ride on a sidewalk for safety or practical reasons, be sure to go slowly and exercise extreme caution around pedestrians. Better yet, get off your bike and walk it until you can once again ride on the road or in a designated bike lane.
While the law does not require riders over the age of eighteen to wear a helmet, moreover, all bicycle riders should carefully consider the consequences of failing to wear a helmet in the event of an accident. Bicycle helmet use can substantially reduce the risk of traumatic brain injury and facial injuries in a collision. It can also reduce the risk of death in a bicycle accident by as much as 34 percent.
We strongly encourage you to always wear your bicycle helmet and any other safety gear when you ride your bicycle, no matter where your bike trip takes you. Bike helmets are relatively inexpensive, lightweight, and (believe it or not) reasonably stylish. There’s no drawback, and a world of benefit, to wearing one whenever you take to the road on two wheels.
Lights and reflectors make a bicyclist visible to drivers, especially in visibility-impairing conditions like dusk, fog, and glare. That enhanced visibility reduces the risk of a bicycle accident.
According to California law, bike riders must have:
While installing reflectors on your bicycle may seem like a trivial inconvenience, those reflectors just might save your life. Your bike does not fit the same visual profile as a passenger vehicle, which means that even in areas of California where bikers commonly ride, drivers may not think to look for you. Reflectors help draw attention and cut through low light and haze, thereby making you visible to motorists when you most need them to see you.
California law also seeks to ensure that you only ride a safe bicycle that fits your body well. For example:
You can find lots of resources online or in your community (local bike shops, in particular) to learn how to fit and maintain your bicycle.
Local authorities have the right to prohibit bicycle use on expressways and freeways, and most do. These roads usually do not have bike paths or safe passing areas for bicycles. Biking on them puts cyclists at serious risk of injury and heightens the risk of motor vehicle accidents. Furthermore, cyclists cannot cross toll bridges unless specifically allowed by the California Department of Transportation.
Make sure you know where you can safely ride your bicycle, and plan your route ahead of time to avoid areas where bicycle riding is illegal. CalBike, the California Bicycle Coalition’s website, offers a comprehensive listing of bike Maps & Routes for riders throughout California. You can also find extensive information about California roads—including travel restrictions, traffic conditions, and construction closures—on the CalTrans QuickMap website.
Many cyclists have had the harrowing experience of getting passed by a motor vehicle at a dangerously close distance. The air turbulence from a fast-moving car or truck can throw a biker off balance, or prompt evasive action that leads to a crash. If a driver misjudges the distance, a motor vehicle can even clip a bicycle, leading to a catastrophic accident.
California law mandates that motorists leave at least three feet of clearance when passing a bicycle. In areas where motorists do not have sufficient clearance, they must slow down behind the cyclist and wait until they have enough room to pass safely. The rule applies equally to bicycles in bike lanes and motor vehicle travel lanes.
Cyclists should also pay careful attention to share the road responsibly and respectfully. If you notice traffic starting to line up behind you, or drivers behind you who seem to be in a rush, especially if this happens on a stretch of road without adequate passing room, move over or move off the road to allow the drivers of passenger vehicles to get around you safely. It’s better for everyone that you stay safe.
Bicycle accidents can result in catastrophic injuries, including brain trauma, spinal cord injuries, severe road rash, and broken bones. Even a seemingly minor collision with a motor vehicle can inflict serious, life-altering injuries to cyclists.
Cyclists harmed by accidents caused by someone else’s wrongful conduct have the right, under California law, to seek compensation for their injuries and losses.
You may claim damages for bike accident injuries, for example, if:
These are just a few examples.
The point is that anyone whose dangerous decisions or actions contribute to the cause of a bike accident that injures you may owe you damages to pay for:
The most reliable way to obtain compensation for bicycle accident injuries in California is to hire an experienced bicycle accident injury lawyer to represent you, and to do so as soon as possible after you get hurt. An attorney will represent your interests above all others and fight to get you as much money as possible from anyone whose wrongful actions harmed you. The sooner you contact a skilled lawyer, the better your chances of obtaining the compensation you deserve, and the lower the risk of missing an important deadline that may short-circuit your legal rights. For example, if you wait too long, your claim may be barred by a statute of limitations.
To learn more about obtaining compensation for your injuries in the wake of a California bicycle accident, contact an experienced attorney as soon as possible. Your initial consultation with a skilled lawyer is always free of charge, and most California bicycle accident lawyers represent their clients on contingency, meaning they only get paid if they get you results.
John Gomez founded the firm alone in 2005. Today, John acts as President and Lead Trial Attorney. He has been voted by his peers as a top ten San Diego litigator in three separate fields: Personal Injury, Insurance and Corporate Litigation. Since 2000, he has recovered over $800 million in settlements and verdicts for his clients with more than 160 separate recoveries of one million dollars or more. A prolific trial lawyer, John has tried to jury verdict more than 60 separate cases.
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