Important Bicycle Laws in CA

Car standing on the pedestrian path with the downed bicycle

Cycling is an increasingly popular form of transportation and recreation, especially during the balmy riding conditions of Los Angeles and the rest of California. Even if you’re just riding for fun, however, it’s important to be aware of important bicycle riding laws in the California Vehicle Code. 

California bicycle laws were implemented to increase safety on the road for cyclists and motorists. They have major significance for your rights and responsibilities as a cyclist and can help avoid bicycle accidents.

Vehicle Codes Apply to Cyclists

California bike laws don’t consider bicycles a motor vehicle and don’t require cyclists to have a license to ride on the road, but most vehicle codes still apply to cyclists. That means cyclists must follow regular road rules, such as signaling and yielding to those with the right of way.

Under state laws governing cycling on the road, cyclists may also ride on the sidewalk with pedestrians as long as they’re riding safely. However, local bylaws, such as those in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego, may prohibit riding on the sidewalk.

Ride on the Right Side of the Road

In normal circumstances, bicyclists ride comparatively slower than traffic and must remain as far to the right of the road as practical. Cyclists must also ride in the same direction as traffic.

However, several circumstances can affect the safest place to ride, such as:

  • Travel speed: The cyclist may take the full lane when traveling at the normal speed of traffic. Cyclists may also ride two or more abreast when traveling at the same speed as traffic.
  • One-way roads: On one-way roads, cyclists may also ride as close to the left side of the road as practical.
  • Turning and other maneuvers: Cyclists may ride in the lane if they must do so to safely turn, pass traffic, or avoid road hazards.
  • Narrow roads: If the lane is too narrow for a vehicle and bicycle to safely ride side-by-side, the cyclist may take the full lane.

Use Bicycle Lanes Whenever Possible

Bike lanes are narrower than standard lanes, and you can usually identify a bike lane by specific symbols, signs, or bright green paint. If riding at a slower speed than traffic, bicyclists should always take bike lanes when present on the roadway. When leaving the bike lane, cyclists must give the appropriate signal to other bikes in the bike lane and vehicles on the road to avoid accidents. Vehicles aren’t allowed to obstruct bike lines, but they do have to travel across them when turning.

Don’t Ride on the Freeway

Cyclists can ride on most roadways in California, including many highways, as long as they follow lane use rules. Except in rare cases, however, cyclists may not ride on freeways as they’re controlled-access roads and usually prohibit cyclist use.

Yield to Pedestrians

Whether on the road or sidewalk, cyclists must yield to pedestrians. Even if a pedestrian fails to use designated crossing areas, the cyclist is responsible for watching for hazards and yielding as necessary.

Minors Must Wear a Helmet

California law requires people under the age of 18 to wear an approved helmet while cycling. Individuals 18 or older aren’t under the same obligation, but helmets are one of the most effective ways to prevent injury in a cycling accident. Wear your helmet as per manufacturer recommendations and ensure it’s properly fitted.

Don’t Cover Both Ears

In California, wearing headphones, earbuds, or earplugs while riding is illegal, and cyclists must leave one or both ears uncovered. Headphones and other devices can distract cyclists and prevent them from hearing other vehicles and emergency responders.

Bicycles Should be an Appropriate Size

Cyclists should be able to maintain control while riding, and that means they must have an appropriately fitted bike. A well-fitting bike should have handlebars the user can easily reach and a frame that allows them to touch one foot to the ground while in an upright position.

Bikes must also be in good working order to ride safely. It’s against the law in California to ride without functioning brakes. Inspect your bike regularly, swap out brake pads or other components as needed, and ensure your brake levers are easily accessible.

Don’t Ride Under the Influence

The same driving under the influence regulations apply to cyclists as motorists. Cycling while impaired is unsafe and can result in arrest and a DUI.

Always Stop at Crosswalks

Remember that bicycles are subject to vehicle codes. Cyclists must make complete stops at crosswalks and intersections with red lights.

While cyclists aren’t pedestrians, they do have similar rights. New for 2024, for example, cyclists may cross intersections at the same time as pedestrians. Pedestrian lights start several seconds before the traffic light turns green, allowing pedestrians and cyclists to claim the right of way and start moving before traffic.

Bicycles Require Lights and Reflectors

When riding at night or during low visibility conditions, such as dense fog, cyclists must have a white light secured to the front of their bike and a red rear reflector or light. The white light must be visible from 300 feet, and the red light from 500 feet.

Bike rules in California also require cyclists to have reflectors on their sides to help vehicles see them better. You can install these reflectors directly on the bike, whether on the pedals or wheels or wear reflectors on your clothing.

Call Jacob Emrani for Bicycle Legal Assistance and More

Medical costs, missing work, and other consequences of an accident can have a big impact, which is why cyclists deserve protection for their rights when involved in a vehicle collision. 

Serving Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, and the rest of California, Jacob Emrami’s team of expert lawyers can help with your case. If you’ve recently been involved in an accident, call the trusted Orange County and Los Angeles bicycle accident lawyers from the Law Offices of Jacob Emrani to begin work on recovering the compensation you need. Call (888) 804-6766 to set up your no-cost case evaluation!

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