California Law From the Perspective of the Bike Rider

In this month’s edition of ‘Legislative Insider,’ we look at the law as it regards to riding a bike in California, city, and state.

Here is the short version of what is expected of you as it relates to riding a bike in California: the bike rider or bicyclist is required by law to observe all rules, regulations and vehicle codes as mandated by the State Legislature, which is spelled out in the California Vehicle Code (CVC). The CVC is enforced by law enforcement entities such as your local Police Dept. and others like the County Sheriff, the Highway Patrol, and Park Ranger. Any interaction you have with law enforcement while riding your bike is most likely to be with the local police department as long as your riding is on city roads, where police drive their patrol cars and bikes. In the occasions when you venture off-road or where the Police Dept. has no jurisdiction, that is where the other law enforcement departments come in. Nevertheless, it is your responsibility to know bike laws pursuant to your riding of a bike in the state. That means you’ll want to read and study up on the law; the DMV, CHP, and LAPD websites are good resources for documents if you are riding in Los Angeles.

All other cities’ local municipalities will have their own websites that provide local bike laws. All laws of the land are there for our safety and well-being so it is no different when it comes to riding bicycles in California. For instance, bicyclists are required to follow obvious vehicle laws such as stopping at a red light or stop signs. A bicycle may not be a vehicle but when riding a bike you must obey all vehicle laws, and that includes coming to a full stop at red lights CVC 21453 (a) and stop signs CVC 22450 (A). Not obeying laws can also prove to be very expensive, oftentimes the fines for violating basic laws will cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $600 with court costs, not to mention the costs associated with having to take a day off to go to court or traffic school. The mere fact that a bicycle is not a great big imposing vehicle running a red light does not negate the fact that the action carries the exact same penalties and fines as if you did it in a car.

Bicyclists are also having to deal with nasty drivers who may pass us at high speeds just inches from us, seemingly oblivious to the recently enacted “Three Foot For Safety Act” (CVC 21760) which requires a driven vehicle to be at least three feet away from a bicyclist, yet we encounter hostile drivers who loudly express their opinion that we don’t belong on the road with them. This can be very dangerous because, as I mentioned last month, your 30lb bike is no match when tangling with an irate driver in a three-ton vehicle in which the driver is well protected, but you are not. In a situation this dangerous, it’s far better to just simply defuse the situation and ignore the miscreant than to engage in a fight. Whenever you encounter an irate driver yelling at you to get off the road, take out your cell phone, snap a few photos of the car with a visible license plate, and inform the driver that you are calling the police to come over and explain the rights of bicycle riders to be on the road alongside vehicles. In all my situations, the aggressive driver will floor the accelerator and disappear, only to end up getting pulled over and having to talk to the cops – works for me every time.