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California Bicycle Laws

Posted by Siamak Vaziri | Dec 22, 2022 | 0 Comments

California law states that bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers of other automobiles (California Vehicle Code Section 21200). California residents use bicycles not just for recreation, but also as a mode of transportation to get to and from work and school. While bicycles are an environmentally friendly mode of transportation, they also have the potential to result in accidents that could leave victims with major or catastrophic injuries.

It is important to know and understand the laws that pertain to bicycles and bicyclists in California so you can be aware of what your rights are if you or a loved one has been injured in a bicycle accident.

Bicycle Accident

Where to Ride a Bicycle

Bicyclists are required to ride as far to the right as possible when traveling at a lower speed than other traffic. Using a full lane is allowed when traveling at the normal speed of traffic or when there is no traffic. When bicyclists are on one-way roads with two or more lanes of traffic, they may ride as close to the left-hand curb or edge as is practicable.

Bicyclists traveling at a speed less than traffic are required to ride within the bike lane when it is available, except when the bicyclist is passing, preparing for a turn, avoiding roadway hazards or mandatory turn lanes.

Ride with Traffic

Bicyclists must ride in the same direction as traffic as required by California Vehicle Code Section 21650. If you are traveling in the opposite direction of a one-way street, walk your bike on the sidewalk.

Ride On The Right Side Of The Road

California Vehicle Code Section 21202 states that bicyclists must ride as close as possible to the right side of a street except under the following circumstances:

  • When passing another vehicle

  • When preparing to make a left turn

  • While trying to avoid a dangerous roadway condition or road hazard

  • While navigating a narrow lane that does not allow for lane sharing

  • While passing through an area where right turns are allowed

Use Bike Lanes

If you are riding your bicycle on a roadway with a bike lane and are moving slower than traffic, you are required under the law to use the bike lane. You may leave the bike lane after you give the appropriate signal and determine that it is reasonably safe to exit. You can exit a bike lane when you are making a left turn, passing another bicyclist, avoiding a pedestrian or vehicle in the bike lane or approaching a location where a right turn is allowed.

Yield To Pedestrians

California Vehicle Code Section 21954 requires all motorists and bicyclists to exist due care for the safety of any pedestrian who is using a marked or unmarked crosswalk. While approaching a crosswalk, a bicyclist must slow down, stop and yield the right of way and proceed only when it is safe to do so. In that sense, bicyclists have the same responsibility as drivers of other vehicles when it comes to yielding the right of way to pedestrians.

Rules for Passing/Overtaking

Bicyclists are required to exercise due care while passing or overtaking a standing vehicle or a vehicle that is traveling in the same direction. Under California law, drivers are required to pass bicyclists at a distance of no less than 3 feet. Cars must not interfere with the safe operation of bicycles. The 3-feet law is in place to ensure the safety of bicyclists on public roadways.

One Ear Not Covered

California Vehicle Code Section 27400 prohibits bicyclists from wearing earplugs in both ears, or a headset that covers both ears. This law is in place to ensure that bicyclists are aware of their surroundings and can hear what is going on around them.

Stop at Crosswalks

Crosswalks are safe spaces for pedestrians. No vehicle including a bicycle should be standing in a crosswalk. Bicyclists should stop at crosswalks and yield the right of way to pedestrians. Bicyclists have a duty of care to pedestrians and are required to exercise reasonable care.

Ride With Lights And Reflectors at Night

Under California Vehicle Code Section 21201(d), if you are riding a bicycle at night or after dark, you or your bicycle must be equipped with a white light that is visible from a distance of 300 feet in front of the bike. The bicycle must also have:

  • A red reflector or solid or flashing red light with a built-in reflector on the rear that can be seen from a distance of 500 feet.

  • A white or yellow reflector on each pedal, shoe or ankle that is visible from the front and rear of the bicycle from a distance of 200 feet

  • A white or yellow reflector on each side forward of the center of the bicycle, and a white or red reflector on each side to the rear of the center of the bike unless it has front and rear reflectorized tires.

Wear A Helmet If Under 18

If you are a minor or under the age of 18, California law requires you to wear a helmet. California Vehicle Code Section 21212 specifically states than any person under 18 shall wear a “properly fitted and fastened bicycle helmet” that meets the standards of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) of the U.S Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Those over the age of 18 are not required by the law to wear a bicycle helmet. However, wearing one is the best way to stay protected from injury.

No Tall Bikes On Roadways

Under California Vehicle Code Section 21201 (c), bicycles must be of a size that the bicyclist can stop, support in an upright position with at least one foot on the ground, and start in a safe manner.

Have Brakes That Work

California Vehicle Code Section 21201(a) requires that bicycles should be equipped with brakes that work. Bikes should have brakes that allow the rider to make a one-braked wheel skid on dry, level, clean pavement. Brakes that work are crucial for safety.


The following is prohibited under California laws:

  • Parking a bicycle on a bike path or sidewalk is illegal.

  • The law prohibits bicyclists from crossing toll bridges, freeways and expressways unless otherwise permitted by the California Department of Transportation.

  • A bicycle can only carry the number of persons for which it is designed.

  • Bicyclists shall not ride a bike without having at least one hand on the handlebars, which should not be higher than the rider's shoulders.

  • Bicyclists are prohibited from operating a bicycle without a permanent regular seat. The only exception is if the manufacturer designed the bicycle to be operated without a seat.

  • Bicycles should not be operated with fixed gears.

  • Bicycle passengers who weigh under 40 pounds must have a seat that keeps them in place.

  • Hanging on to motor vehicles while bicycling is prohibited.

Equipping and Preparing Your Bicycle

When it comes to safely operating your bicycle, it is important that your bicycle is equipped with all the features that make it safe. The following are items that must be installed on all bicycles:

Brakes: Every bicycle must be equipped with working brakes that allow the rider to complete a brake on a level, dry and clean pavement.

Handlebars: Handlebars are not permitted to be higher than the bicyclist's shoulders.

Bike size: Bicycles should be at an adequate height, enough to allow the bicyclist to stop and start safely.

Bike lights: When riding after dark or at night, a white light should be visible in the front of the bicycle. The light should be secured to the bike or to the rider.

Reflectors: When riding at night or when visibility is low, reflectors should be attached to the bicycle.

Seating: Every bicycle should be equipped with a permanent and stable seat.

Contacting an Experienced Los Angeles Bicycle Accident Lawyer

Despite the existence of these laws, there are situations where motorists or even law enforcement officials don't correctly understand the rights on bicyclists on public roadways. If you have been injured in a bicycle accident, it is important that you seek the counsel of an experienced bicycle accident lawyer in LA.

Because these laws as well as the facts and circumstances surrounding a case can be complex, it is best to contact a knowledgeable lawyer who can guide you through the process and put you in the best possible position to receive just compensation for your losses. Contact the Vaziri Law Group to obtain more information about pursuing your legal rights.

Related Resources

How to be safe on a bicycle

About the Author

Siamak Vaziri

Attorney Siamak Vaziri’s mission is to help make his clients whole by obtaining maximum physical, emotional, and financial recovery. Mr. Vaziri’s clients' needs come first, evidenced by his 98% success rate, more than $1 Billion in client settlements and verdicts, as well as 100+ 5-star reviews. Mr. Vaziri invests every resource to nurture his client and partner relationships and does so with integrity and a relentless work ethic.


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