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Do I Control the Traffic Lane?

Listen to Richard Duquette's discussion of traffic laws for bicyclists on episode seven of "Bicycling and the Law":

“Where should I ride?” is a question I am frequently asked.  Legally, bicyclists have all the rights and duties of a motorist when riding on roadways (Vehicle Code §21200(a)); however, there are specific laws as to where on the roadway a bicyclist should ride. 

Marked Bike Lanes:

Obviously, if there is a marked bicycle lane, a bicyclist is arguably required to ride within the bicycle lane and in the same direction as traffic.  Vehicle Code §21208(a) only allows a bicyclist to move outside the bike lane under four conditions:

  • When overtaking, and passing another bicycle, vehicle or pedestrian within the lane or about to enter the lane if you cannot safely pass within the bike lane;
  • When preparing to make a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway;
  • When reasonably necessary to avoid debris or other hazardous conditions, including a substandard width lane;
  • When approaching a place where a right turn is authorized (for example, a right turn only lane and you are proceeding straight).

If you must leave the bicycle lane under any of these circumstances, that maneuver must be made with reasonable safety only after giving an appropriate signal if any vehicle may be affected by your movement.  If no vehicle is affected by your movement, it can be argued no turn signal is required.  (See my article entitled “When is a Turning Movement Illegal” for a brief summary of the law relating to Vehicle Code §22107)

No Bike Lane:

Where there is no marked bike lane, it is most important for motorists and bicyclists to share the road.  A bicyclist is required by Vehicle Code §21202(a) to “ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway”. Therefore, when there is not a marked bike lane and you are riding with others, you should consider riding single file when you are aware of approaching vehicles, rather than next to another bicyclist, since the bicyclist on the left would not be as close to the right as practicable and potentially obstructing the lane for motor vehicles.  This suggestion depends on the many factors like road width and traffic conditions.

There is one further exception to this rule, found in Vehicle Code §21202(b), which states that on a one-way road with multiple lanes in the same direction, bicyclists “may ride as near the left-hand curb or edge of that roadway as practicable.  Note that this exception still does not allow bicyclists to occupy the center of the roadway unless necessary.  It only provides that they may travel on the leftward edge as well as the rightward on a one-way, multi lane road.

Whether riding on a one-way or two-way street, it should go without saying, you must always ride the same direction of traffic.  However, occasionally, I see a bicyclist riding against traffic.  This is extremely dangerous particularly since motorists are not expecting this and it increases the chance of a collision.

Since a bicyclist is subject to the same local laws as a motorist, a bicycle – just like a motor vehicle – should not be ridden on a sidewalk.  Some counties have enacted ordinances against this.  Again, motorists do not expect to see you on the sidewalk.  Further, you may be cited with a traffic violation for riding on the sidewalk.

The keys to safe bicycling include being predictable, visible, and communicating your intentions to motorists. Ride like you are invisible. Obeying the rules of the roadway helps ensure the safety of bicyclists.

REVISED 06/22/2018

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The information in this article is for general information purposes only.  The focus of this article is on California Law. You should contact an attorney in your state for case specific advice, as details of the law and procedural requirements vary from state to state.  Nothing in this article should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship; and the receipt, reading, listening, or viewing of this content shall not constitute an attorney-client relationship.  Nothing in this article shall be construed as a warrant, promise, or guarantee about the outcome of your case or any other matter.  This information may contain personal impressions or statements of opinion on a subject that do not apply in your case.  Further, statements of law reflect the current state of the law at the time of writing and/or recording and may not reflect subsequent changes in the law.