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Everyday Law

Bicycle Safety

The American River Trail, signature bike racks bearing the city seal that designate bike-friendly businesses, and free urban-cycling-skills classes help make the City of Sacramento #25 on the list of "America's Top 50 Bike-Friendly Cities," according to Bicycling Magazine. I can attest to this—there are bicycle lanes all along my commute to and from work, and I pass approximately twenty cyclists each way every day. Many of them, however, are not as "friendly" with the Rules of the Road as I wish they were. I see cyclists riding while talking on the phone, with headsets on, cyclists I am sure are minors riding without helmets, and even people riding in the middle of the street! It is enough to make you curse and shake your fist in the air! 

But then, I said to myself, "Self, perhaps they are just not aware of the rules? Surely they are not doing this intentionally!" I replied, "Why don't you write your next Everyday Law article on Bicycle Safety? And stop calling me Shirley!" So, without further ado, I present to you both, cyclists and motor vehicle operators, "The Rules of the Road."

Rule Number 1Cyclists have to follow all of the rules that cars have to.

A person riding a bicycle upon a highway is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle, including, but not limited to, the provisions prohibiting driving under the influence of alcoholic beverages or drugs; the provisions concerning Accidents and Accident Reports; the provisions prohibiting headsets and earplugs; the provisions concerning Registration and Licensing of Bicycles; the provisions concerning Offenses and Prosecution; and the provisions concerning Penalties and Disposition of Fees, Fines, and Forfeitures; except those provisions which by their very nature can have no application. California Vehicle Code (VC) § 21200

Rule Number 2:  Stay in Your Lane!

It is illegal for a bicycle to leave the bike lane except when a) overtaking and passing another bicycle, vehicle, or pedestrian; but only if the overtaking and passing cannot be done safely within the lane; b) when preparing for a left turn at an intersection or private road or driveway; c) when reasonably necessary to leave the bicycle lane to avoid debris or other hazardous conditions; and d) when approaching a place where a right turn is authorized. No person operating a bicycle shall leave a bicycle lane until the movement can be made with reasonable safety and then only after giving an appropriate signal. VC § 21208.

Likewise, motor vehicles should stay out of the bike lane unless a) to park where parking is permitted; b) to enter or leave the roadway; or c) to prepare for a turn within a distance of 200 feet from the intersection.  VC § 21209.

Rule Number 3:  Don't talk or text and ride!

It is illegal to ride a bicycle and listen to or talk on; or write, send, or read, a voice- or text-based communication on an electronic wireless communications device unless that device is specifically designed and configured to allow hands-free listening and talking, or voice-operated and hands-free listening and texting, and is used in that manner while riding. VC §§ 23123; 23123.5. It is illegal for a minor to do either of the above, regardless of whether the device is equipped to allow hands-free and voice-operated communication. VC § 23124. On a related note, "[n]o person operating a bicycle shall carry any package, bundle or article which prevents the operator from keeping at least one hand upon the handlebars." VC § 21205.

Rule Number 4:  Minors must wear a helmet!

Of course, everyone should wear a helmet while riding a bike, but it is illegal for a minor not to. VC § 21212

Rule Number 5: Read ALL the Rules! 

Cities and Counties can and do have them, in addition to the State. VC § 21206. For example, the City of Sacramento has set a bicycle speed limit of no "faster than is reasonable under the circumstances but in no event more than ten (10) miles per hour." Sacramento City Code § 12.44.090. Both the City and County of Sacramento prohibit bicycle riding on sidewalks unless the sidewalk is "designated as part of an established bicycle route." Sacramento City Code § 10.76.010; Sacramento County Code § 10.16.180

New RulesThree Feet for Safety Act.

Starting September 16, 2014, the new Act will require a motor vehicle driver passing a bicycle that is proceeding in the same direction to pass with no less than three feet between any part of the vehicle and any part of the bicycle or driver. When three feet is not possible, the motor vehicle must slow to a reasonable and prudent speed and only pass when no danger is present to the bicyclist. Failing to do so can incur a fine, regardless of a collision.

For more information on bicycle safety, and many more subjects, visit the Sacramento County Public Law Library, providing free public access to legal information for over 100 years. 

By Kelly Browne, Assistant Director for Public Services