Cycling is on the rise in the United States. The Outdoor Foundation reports that Bicycling is the most popular sporting activity in the country and almost 50% of Americans say that they would appreciate more bicycle facilities in their community. While I usually focus on motorcycling related issues in this blog, cycling accidents are an unfortunate source of an increasing number of serious injuries and some tips on cycling safety are timely – for bicyclists and motorists alike.
Over the course of my practice, I have had a great many drivers relate just how frustrating they find bicyclists. Cyclists, they tell me, hog the road, come out of nowhere, and can’t keep up with traffic. Likewise, I have represented a number of injured riders who report that other drivers don’t pay attention to bicycles and don’t appropriately share the road. To avoid some of this conflict and work to keep everyone safe, let’s look at some of the rights and regulations facing bicyclists on public streets.
Bicyclists follow the same rules as cars.
It might come as a surprise to riders and drivers alike, but according to the California Vehicle Code bicyclists are obligated to follow the same rules of the road as motorists and they enjoy the same privileges. This means that cyclists, with a few limitations we’ll cover shortly, are generally both allowed and obligated to operate their bikes in a similar fashion to car drivers, including occupying actual lanes on the road (following the direction and flow of traffic), observing signs and traffic lights (bikes are legally obligated to respect stop signs and lights), and signaling their intentions to other drivers.
Many motorists are infuriated by the way some cyclists seem to refuse to stay far enough to the side of the road to allow the driver to pass. This is actually precisely what bicycle riders are supposed to do. In fact, it’s illegal to pass a cyclist without adequate space to do so (generally at least three feet of clearance between the car and the bike) – even if the rider is traveling much slower than other cars. Bicycle riders are encouraged to ride well out into the right-hand lane whenever there is too little space for cars to pass so as to discourage unsafe passing by cars approaching from the rear. In general, bicyclists should ride in traffic when they are traveling at the same speed and move towards the right as their speed decreases with respect to the cars around them. However, cyclists are warned against riding too close to the right hand side in situations where doing so might be unsafe.
When making left-hand turns, cyclists have two choices. They can either utilize the left-hand turn lane just as a car would, or detour to the right-hand side of the street to use the crosswalk (though they must yield to pedestrians and obey crosswalk signals). Unfortunately, a large number of accidents occur when cyclists either make unsafe or illegal left-hand turns from too far to the right of a lane, or when motorists don’t see an approaching bicycle at an intersection. Generally, bicycle riders should avoid riding where they might not be expected. Motorists are used to looking in certain places for opposing traffic and a cyclist who appears from an unusual spot or angle may get hit. Following the flow of regular traffic through an intersection or stopping to properly utilize a crosswalk can keep riders where drivers expect them to be.
Right-of-Way and Sidewalks
Neither cars nor by bicycles have any general right of way with respect to each other (though specific rules of the road may create rights of way in certain places such as bike lanes or intersections). However, cyclists must generally yield to pedestrians, particularly on sidewalks, in crosswalks, and for disabled persons. While cyclists are usually encouraged to ride in the lanes of traffic when it is safe to do so, there is no statewide law forbidding cycling on the sidewalk. However, some local municipalities have specific ordinances that do. For example, in the City of Huntington Beach, riding a bicycle on the sidewalk in a business district or adjacent to schools, churches, recreational centers or playgrounds is prohibited. In the City of San Francisco, riders over the age of 13 are generally prohibited from cycling on the sidewalk.
As I mentioned above, cyclists should endeavor to stay as visible as possible at all times. During the day, this generally means being in the places other drivers expect such as in the proper lanes of traffic. However, state law requires additional precautions at night including proper reflectors and a headlight. More details on these rules can be found here.
As noted earlier, cyclists are governed by the same regulations as regular motorists. This includes all the traditional restrictions on riding while under the influence. It also means that bicycle riders face the same prohibitions against blocking both ears with earplugs or headphones. I’ve written about this latter restriction in the motorcycling setting and that advice applies equally well here. Finally, according to some sources, bicycle theft is on the rise in the United States; lock your bike whenever you leave it unattended to protect your investment.
If you’ve been injured in a bicycle accident, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries and damages. Bicyclists who are hit by other drivers have the same rights to recovery as anyone else injured in a vehicle accident. Contact me today for a consultation.