California Bicycle Laws
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California Bicycle Laws

California Vehicle Code laws that apply to bicyclists and cyclist rights

As an avid cyclist, attorney and former California Superior Court Judge pro tem, Tom Reinecke has unique qualifications in representing California cyclist. Below is a list of important California Vehicle Code (CVC) laws that apply to bicyclist and cyclist rights.

Bicyclist Rights (CVC 21200)
Every bicyclist upon a highway has all the rights of a motorist and is subject to all the provisions of the California Vehicle Code.

Alcohol and Drugs (CVC 21200.5)
It is against the law to ride a bicycle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Any person arrested for violation of this section may request to have a chemical test made of the person's blood, breath or urine for the purpose of determining the alcohol or drug content. A conviction for violation of this section shall be punished by a fine not more than $250.00.

Equipment (CVC 21201) Bicycles
must be equipped with at least one brake which allows the operator to execute a wheel skid on dry, level, clean pavement. Handlebars must not be higher than the rider's shoulder. Bicycles must be small enough for the rider to stop and support it with one foot on the ground and restart safely. Night bicyclists must be equipped with a white headlight or white light attached to the rider and visible from the front. Bicycles must also have a rear red reflector and white or yellow pedal reflectors. There must also be a white or yellow reflector on the front of the bicycle visible from the side and a red or white reflector on the rear of the bicycle visible from the side.

Use of the Roadway (CVC 21202)
Bicyclists must travel in the same direction as moving traffic. Bicycles traveling slower than the normal speed of traffic must ride as close to the right side of the road as practicable except when passing another bicycle or vehicle, when preparing for a left turn, and when reasonably necessary to avoid conditions that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge. This would include 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. Bicyclists on a one-way road with two or more marked traffic lanes may ride as near to the left-hand curb or edge of that roadway as practicable.

Hitching Rides (CVC 21203)
No bicyclist shall attach himself to any vehicle on the roadway.

Child Seats (CVC 21204)
A bicyclist shall not allow a person riding as a passenger unless there is a separate seat. If the passenger is four years of age or younger or weighs 40 pounds or less the seat shall have adequate provisions for retaining the child in a place and protecting the child from moving parts of the bicycle.

Carrying Packages (CVC 21205)
No bicyclist shall carry and package, bundle or article which prevents the bicyclist from keeping at least one hand on the handlebars.

Bicycle Lane Use (CVC 21208)
Bicyclists traveling slower than traffic must use bike lanes except when make a left turn, passing or avoiding hazardous conditions.

Motorized Bicycles Prohibited (CVC 21207.5)
No motorized bicycle may be operated on a bicycle path or trail, bikeway, or bicycle lane unless it is within or adjacent to a roadway or unless the local authority or governing body permits such operation.

Bicycle Parking (CVC 21210)
No bicyclist shall leave lying on its side on any sidewalk or shall park a bicycle on a sidewalk in any other position so that there is no adequate path for pedestrian traffic.

Helmets (CVC 21212)
Bicyclists and passengers under the age of 18 must wear an ANSI approved helmet when a passenger or riding upon a bicycle.

Direction of Travel (CVC 21650)
All bicyclists must travel on the right side of the roadway in the direction of travel.

Freeways (CVC 21960)
Bicyclists may not ride on the freeways where prohibited. Local exception such as from Oceanside to San Onofre (Tresles Ride) may apply.

Hand Signals (CVC 22111)
In addition to hand signals indicating turning or stopping which must be given from the left side, a bicyclist may indicate a right turn by extending the right hand or arm horizontally to the right side of the bicycle.

Headphones (CVC 27400)
Bicyclists may not wear earplugs in both ears or a headset covering both ears except hearing aids. You can wear a headphone in one ear.

Left-Turn or U-Turn (CVC 21801(a))
Many bicycle accident cases involve drivers failing to yield to bicyclist. A driver of a vehicle intending to turn to the left or complete a u-turn upon a highway or to turn left into a public or private property or an alley, shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles (including bicyclists) approaching from the opposite direction which are close enough to constitute a hazard at any time during the turning movement, and shall continue to yield the right-of-way to the approaching vehicle (or bicyclist) until the left turn or u-turn can be made with reasonable safety.

Left-Turn Bicyclist Responsibility (CVC § 21801(b))
states that a driver having yielded as prescribed in Subdivision (a) and having given a signal when and as required by this Code, may turn left or complete a u-turn and the other drivers of vehicles (including bicyclists) approaching the intersection or the entrance of the property or alley from the opposite direction shall yield the right-of-way to the turning motor vehicle.

Bicycle Lanes (CVC 21207)
A bicycle lane is shown by a solid white line along either side of the street, or more feet from the curb. The white line will usually be broken near the corner and the words "bike lane" will be painted in the lane. The California DMV states that when a motor vehicle is making a right turn and is within 200 feet of the corner or other driveway entrance, the motor vehicle may enter the bike lane for the turn. A motor vehicle may not drive in the bike lane at any other time. In addition, pedestrians are not allowed in marked bike lanes when sidewalks are available. When passing a bicyclist, pass on the left. If in a narrow traffic lane, the motor vehicle should wait until the traffic clears in the opposite lane before passing a bicyclist and not attempt to “squeeze past” the bicyclist. Recently the 2010 City of Los Angeles Bike Summit recommended a three (3) foot rule and recommended state legislation.


Tom Reinecke

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