California Bicycle Laws

California’s mild climate, bike-friendly infrastructure, scenic routes, diverse terrain, and active cycling community make it an ideal place for anyone who loves to ride a bike. Unfortunately, severe or fatal bicycle injury accidents occur frequently in our state, particularly on busy roads in and around the Bay Area.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, over 60,000 bicyclists in the United States were injured in traffic accidents, and 840 lost their lives in 2016. The carelessness or recklessness of motorists caused a significant number of these collisions. When vehicle drivers are distracted, intoxicated, ignore the rules of the road, or disregard the rights of cyclists, they put everyone at risk.

Because cyclists have little to protect them in the event of a crash, they are frequently injured or killed by drivers who do not check their blind spot before changing lanes, make right turns directly in front of them, hit them while driving on the shoulder, open doors in their path, fail to stop at stop signs, pull out from driveways or side streets without looking, or otherwise jeopardize their safety.

Motorists and cyclists alike must understand California’s bicycle laws and the rights they extend to cyclists on public roads throughout The Golden State. It’s also vital to know your rights if a negligent motorist has injured you while riding your bike.

California Bicycle Laws

Under California Vehicle Code §21200 – 21213, cyclists have the following rights:

  • You can ride where you like, as long as you are moving at the same speed and with traffic flow.
  •  If you’re riding slower than traffic, California’s bicycle lane rules allow you to “take the lane” if it’s not wide enough for a bike and a vehicle to share side-by-side safely. Stay close to the right side of the road, as much as possible and practical. Exceptions to this are when passing, turning left, avoiding hazards, riding in a particularly narrow traffic lane, or attempting an authorized right turn.
  •  If the road has a bike lane, you must use it unless you’re making a left turn, passing, dodging hazardous conditions, or approaching an authorized right turn. Knowing and obeying all bike lane rules in California is crucial before riding.
  • You don’t have to use a bikeway (formerly known as a “protected bike lane”) since California’s bicycle rules of the road no longer recognize them as bike lanes.
  • You must ride with traffic and on the right side of the road unless you’re turning left, overtaking or passing another cyclist or vehicle, riding on a one-way street or a narrow road, or when construction closes the right side.
  • High-speed (28 mph top-assisted speed) e-bikes and mopeds may not be ridden on trails, bike paths, or bike lanes unless otherwise specified by California law or local laws. Operators aged sixteen or older may ride them in bike lanes or separated bikeways. Riders must wear an approved helmet at all times.
  • Low-speed (20 mph top assisted speed) electric bicycles can be ridden wherever bikes are allowed unless expressly prohibited by local law.
  • You may not stop or park a bicycle on a bicycle path.
  •  A city or county may determine whether cyclists can ride bikes on sidewalks.
  • People may not ride bicycles (including motorized bikes) on freeways or expressways if the California Department of Transportation (CDoT) and local authorities prohibit it.
  • Bicyclists may only use toll bridges if permitted by the California Department of Transportation.

Knowing the bicycle laws in California could make a significant difference in a safe ride and one that results in a severe injury accident. Unfortunately, even the safest cyclist could still be injured if a motorist fails to respect the rights of cyclists on the road.

What Are The Most Common Causes of Bike Accidents in California?

Some of the most common causes of bike accidents in California include:

  • Left-turning vehicles at an intersection – If a driver fails to see an oncoming cyclist or misjudges the cyclist’s speed, a severe or fatal injury accident could occur.
  • Right-turning vehicles overtaking a cyclist – Motorists turning right at an intersection or driveway often fail to check for cyclists riding alongside or behind them, leading to dangerous collisions.
  • Vehicles passing too closely – If a motorist attempts to pass a cyclist and doesn’t leave adequate space, they could “clip” the cyclist or cause them to lose control and crash. Cyclists may also get hit by the vehicle if they swerve to avoid hazardous road conditions.
  • Dooring – “Dooring” accidents often happen when cyclists ride near parked cars. If a driver or passenger opens their door without looking, they could hit a cyclist riding by and cause a severe injury accident.
  • Road hazards – Not providing clean pavement, or uneven pavement, potholes, debris, and other hazards on the road can cause cyclists to lose control of their bikes and crash. When this happens, a government entity could be responsible for compensating the injured cyclist if the road was not adequately designed, inspected, or repaired.
  • Driving under the influence – Motorists under the influence of alcohol or drugs will often experience dangerously impaired judgment and coordination, making it more difficult to see cyclists, react to hazards on the road, and avoid accidents.
  • Distracted driving – If a driver is texting, talking on the phone, eating, grooming, talking to passengers, or engaging in other distracting activities, they may fail to see cyclists on the road or leave adequate space between their vehicle and the bike. Distracted driving is a significant cause of crashes in California and across the United States and causes countless severe injuries and fatal accidents each year.
  • Pedestrian collisions – Cyclists riding on sidewalks, crosswalks, or bike paths could collide with pedestrians walking, jogging, or standing on the path. If the pedestrian was in the wrong place or was not walking where they were supposed to, they could be liable for the harm they caused.
  • Mechanical failures – If a bicycle’s brakes, gears, chains, or other bike components malfunction, they can cause a cyclist to lose control and crash. If a defectively designed or manufactured part caused the collision, the cyclist could seek compensation from the manufacturer.
  • Dog attacks – Dog owners are always responsible for their pets. If a dog is off-leash or if the owner fails to control it and it attacks a cyclist and causes a crash, the pet owner could be liable for the cyclist’s injuries.

What Type of Compensation Could I Recover After a Bike Accident?

If someone else’s negligence caused a severe injury bike accident in San Francisco, you could be eligible to seek compensation from the at-fault party. Depending on the specifics of your crash (including whether you were following California biking laws and the other party’s actions) and the nature of your injuries, you could seek compensation, including:

  • Medical bills, both current and future
  • Prescription medication, medical devices, therapy, rehabilitation, and other treatment costs
  • Lost income and potential earnings
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Loss of financial support
  • Loss of consortium
  • Repairs or replacement of your bike and other damaged property
  • Incidental expenses for travel for treatment and rehabilitation

Even if the at-fault driver is not located or identified (such as in a hit-and-run crash), a cyclist could seek compensation from their own motor vehicle insurance policy if it includes coverage for Uninsured / Underinsured motorists. This is often referred to as UI/UM coverage.

Frequently Asked Questions

The following are some frequently asked questions about bike accidents in California:

How can I stay safe while cycling on these busy Bay area roads?

Cyclists can stay safe on busy roads in California by wearing a helmet, using bike hand signals, following California bike law, using designated bike lanes or paths whenever possible, staying visible by wearing bright clothing or yellow reflectors, white lights, or red lights, and being aware of their surroundings at all times.

What should I do if I’m injured in a bike accident in San Francisco? 

Suppose a negligent motorist hits you while riding your bike. In that case, you should immediately contact the police, get information from the individuals involved and any eyewitnesses, seek prompt medical attention, keep a record of the incident, and contact an experienced San Francisco bicycle accident lawyer as soon as possible.

What information should I gather from the driver and witnesses after a bicycle accident in California?

You should always get the driver’s name, contact information, insurance information, license plate number, and the names and contact information of any witnesses who saw the accident occur.

How can I preserve evidence to support my case after a bicycle accident in California?

If your injuries allow, you could secure crucial evidence to support your case after a bicycle accident by taking pictures and video of the accident scene and your injuries, getting the contact information for any witnesses and preserving any physical evidence such as broken bike parts or damaged clothing.

When should I contact a bicycle accident lawyer in California after a bicycle accident?

You contact a bicycle accident lawyer in San Francisco as soon as possible after an accident, so your lawyer can gather vital evidence before it is lost or destroyed, file an insurance claim or lawsuit, and seek fair compensation for your injuries and accident-related losses.

Is the motorist always at fault in a bicycle and car accident in California?

No, the motorist will not always be at fault for a collision involving a car and bike in California. Cyclists are also expected to obey the rules of the road and operate their vehicles with care and caution, so fault for any particular accident will depend on the specific circumstances and the actions taken by both parties.

Could I seek compensation if I was partially at fault for the bicycle accident in California?

Yes, you may still be eligible to recover compensation even if you were partially at fault for the bicycle accident in California. Because California follows a pure comparative negligence doctrine, the court would likely reduce the compensation you could recover based on your percentage of fault.

Why should I hire a lawyer to represent me? 

If you’ve been injured in a bike crash, you might wonder if you can handle your insurance or injury claim without the assistance of a knowledgeable bicycle accident attorney. You might be tempted to settle directly with the other party’s insurance company, but doing so might be a big mistake.

Remember that insurance company representatives are incentivized to maximize company profits by minimizing payouts for claims. If you’re injured in a bike crash and do not have legal representation, the other party’s insurance company might try to push you to accept a lowball settlement offer that is far less than what you deserve. That’s because the insurance company knows you are unprepared to file a lawsuit or take the case to court.

Hiring an experienced personal injury attorney to represent you in a bicycle accident case will maximize your ability to recover the deserved compensation. You should let them handle all communications and negotiations with the insurance company and refrain from signing any papers or agreeing to recorded statements if an adjuster or another company representative approaches you.

Contact a San Francisco Bike Accident Attorney Today

If you have been injured in a bike accident in San Francisco, you need a skilled and experienced bike accident attorney with the skills and resources to help you seek the full and fair compensation you deserve. When the unthinkable happens, and a negligent motorist injures you while riding your bike, contact Attorney Daniel Rose immediately for help. Some of the reasons why other injured cyclists have chosen our firm include the following:

  • We provide personalized attention to every client. Every client deserves compassionate, personalized service. When you hire us, Mr. Rose will carefully evaluate your claim and work closely with you at every step to meet your needs.
  • We have a proven track record of success. Mr. Rose has secured tens of millions of dollars in compensation for his clients. As a former partner with Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein LLP, a nationally recognized law firm, Mr. Rose has built a reputation for professional integrity and efficient, aggressive, and responsible representation.
  • We have earned significant recognition and accolades.  Mr. Rose’s commitment to providing exceptional legal representation has earned him recognition from clients and peers alike. He has been recognized as a California Super Lawyer, an exclusive rating held by fewer than 5% of attorneys in California. He is also the recipient of the Martindale Hubble Client Distinction Award.

Contact an experienced San Francisco bicycle accident attorney at the Law Office of Daniel H. Rose at (415) 737-5886 for a free consultation today.