The Rules of the Road for Bicyclists: Is it time for a change?

The rules of the road for bicyclists are changing. Many people are choosing to ride their bicycles as their main source of transportation, including commuting to work, getting groceries, or going to the movies. The movement has been spurred by increasing traffic conditions in our communities. Some bicyclists have stated that they enjoy riding their bicycle between all the cars, giving them a natural rush. Although there are laws in place to keep bicyclists safe on the road, many individuals do not follow these rules, and many are even asking for a modern reform.

In the State of California, bicyclists are expected to completely stop at a stop sign, a law that is commonly ignored by bicyclists. According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), “bicyclists must obey STOP signs and red signal lights. It’s a good idea to stop for yellow lights too–rushing through a yellow light may not leave you enough time to make it across the intersection before the light changes” [A]. Some bicyclists argue that stopping at a stop sign pauses the “rush” of bike riding. Some States, such as Idaho, have adopted less strict bike guidelines, making the streets more “bike friendly.” Idaho also allows bicyclists to treat stop signs as yields, most commonly referred to as the “Idaho Stop.” These modern biking guidelines derived from a 1982 Judge who ordered a change to traffic laws to limit the congestion of trivial traffic violations in his courtroom. Internationally, cities like Paris have allowed bicyclists to treat red lights as yields. Last year, San Francisco’s Mayor vetoed the adoption of the “Idaho Stop,” stating, “it does not promote balanced public safety for all the diverse users of our streets.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, the rules of the road for bicyclists under California Law is controlled by laws that contain an abstract notion of equity between cyclists and motorists, creating an ongoing debate. This debate has been reinforced with the introduction of the e-bike. An e-bike is a regular bicycle that contains “power on demand.” This e- bicycle is not easily distinguishable from other bicycles, and it is a new alternative for bicyclists of all levels to commute. The extra power source can allow riders to move quicker and smoother on their commute, including climbing hills. These new e-bicycles have called for a definition of the applicable laws. Moreover, “the bill designates three classes of e-bikes, and distinguishes lower speed electric bicycles that reach motor-assisted speeds of up to 20 miles per hour, from higher ‘speed pedelecs’ which have motors that provide assistance up to 28 miles per hour” (B). E-bikes are also allowed on regular bike paths.

rules of the road for bicyclists

Courtesy of People for Bikes

Many times, there is a misunderstanding of the laws that surround bike riders in California.

Rules of the road for bicyclists in CA:

  1. Bicycle lane, when the road provides a bicycle lane it is advised that riders use this lane. If a bicyclist is riding slower than on-going traffic they MUST use this lane, unless they are making a left turn, passing, avoiding road hazards, or when the right lane only allows a right turn.
  2. Riding with traffic, when riding with traffic, bicyclists must travel on the right side of the roadway, unless they are making a left turn, avoiding road hazards, avoiding construction, or riding on a one-way street.
  3. Riding on sidewalks, this regulation is controlled by each individual city, whether or not bicyclists are allowed to ride on the sidewalk.
  4. Riding on Freeways, unless otherwise stated, bicycles are not allowed on freeways or expressways and this is strictly prohibited by the California Department of Transportation.
  5. Riding through toll bridges, unless otherwise stated, bicycles are not allowed on toll bridges, this is strictly prohibited by the California Department of Transportation.

rules of the road for bicyclists

Bicyclists (including e-bicyclists) are encouraged to practice safe riding by taking extra precautions to protect yourself. These precautions include:

  1. Wearing a helmet, taking this precaution is crucial to avoiding life-threatening injuries. Parents – by law, riders under the age of 18 must wear helmets when riding a bicycle on a public road.
  2. Go with the traffic flow, this will allow you to be more visible to drivers. Riding the opposite direction of traffic is dangerous and illegal.
  3. Be cautious of parked vehicles, opening doors can cause you to fall. When driving close to parked cars, bicyclists should keep a safe distance from the cars.
  4. Stay alert, be prepared to stop or take action when avoiding road hazards.

Regardless of the changing world of bicycling, the rules of the road for bicyclists under California Law must be followed (by all parties). We encourage you to practice bicycle safety and share the road!

rules of the road for bicyclists

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