Each year more than 100 people are killed and hundreds of thousands more are injured in bicycle collisions in the state of California alone, according to the DMV. LA is a dangerous enough place to drive a car, imagine taking on this city on a bike. Many of my past clients have been involved in bicycle accidents. They are more common than you would think, especially here in Southern California where the weather is usually wonderful for biking.
Many California communities are now promoting the use of bicycles instead of cars for short trips. This means that sharing the roads with bicyclists on your commute will likely become a bigger challenge in the coming years. There are some potential changes to the bike laws that you, as a driver, need to be aware of. Knowing these laws can make all the difference in predicting what a bicyclist is going to do in traffic (and avoiding an accident in the process).
When Can a Bicyclist Enter a Car Lane?
Maybe you’ve had this problem before: you’re driving behind a bicyclist and want to pass them, but you don’t have enough room to do so because they’ve entered your lane. Now you have to drive behind them at 20 MPH (or slower) until you can figure out a way to switch lanes to get around them. It’s difficult to predict the speed of the bike, so leaving a safe following distance is a challenge.
This is how many bicycle accidents begin. The driver doesn’t leave enough following distance and the bicyclist stops or makes an unexpected maneuver and then the driver doesn’t have enough time to react.
According to California state law, the driver would be at fault in this accident. Vehicle Code section 21201 states that a cyclist “shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway” except under the following situations:
- When overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicles proceeding in the same direction.
- When preparing to make a left turn so that vehicles going straight don’t collide into them.
- When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions (including but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or substandard width lanes that make it unsafe to continue…)
- To avoid a collision with a right-turning car.
Within the exceptions to this law, cyclists can ride in the car-designated lane and drivers must be prepared to slow down and share the lane (meaning they give the cyclist ample following distance, and room to maneuver) until it is safe for them to pass the bike on the left.
What If They’re Riding a Bike on the Sidewalk?
In many cases, cyclists feel unsafe riding on the road and opt for the sidewalk instead. Does that make it easier to drive next to them? Not necessarily. Bike collisions still happen to those riding on the sidewalk when a car is backing out of a driveway or making a left turn onto a private road or driveway. Know to be looking out for bikes in these situations. Keep in mind that bicyclists travel faster than pedestrians and make a point to check the sidewalk along with oncoming traffic when you’re about to back up or make a left turn.
Though bikes are typically expected to follow the rules of the road, a bicyclist may not be at fault just because they are riding on the sidewalk. The State Vehicle Code doesn’t prohibit riding a bike on the sidewalk, so it falls on local ordinances to make the determination. Here are LA’s local ordinances on riding on the sidewalk:
LA – County:
A person shall not operate any bicycle or any vehicle or ride any animal on any sidewalk or parkway except at a permanent or temporary driveway or at specific locations thereon where the commissioner finds that such locations are suitable for, and has placed appropriate signs and/or markings permitting such operation or riding.
LA – City:
No person shall ride, operate or use any bicycle, unicycle, skateboard, cart, wagon, wheelchair, roller-skates, or any other device moved exclusively by human power, on a sidewalk, bikeway or boardwalk in a willful or wanton disregard for safety of persons or property.
It is unlawful for any person to ride a bicycle upon a sidewalk within a business district, as defined in Section 235 of the Vehicle Code. It is also unlawful for any person to ride a bicycle upon a sidewalk located other than within a business district, which sidewalk is posted by the Road Commissioner with signs prohibiting such riding.
Do Bikes Have to Stop at Stop Signs?
As the law stands right now, yes. Cars have to stop, so bikes do too.
There is a proposed new law that would change this and legalize the so-called California roll for cyclists. Under the proposed new law, bicyclists would still have to stop at red lights and would only be able to go through a stop sign if it was safe (which they would have to assess as they approach the intersection).
The idea for the law is that coming to a complete stop causes a bicyclist to lose momentum and therefore take a substantially longer amount of time to get through an intersection. According to the LA Times, there is actually compelling research to support this new bike law. A similar policy enacted in Idaho resulted in a decline in bike-related injuries.
This potential law is still up for debate. If it goes into affect, it will mean that drivers need to be even more aware of their surroundings at stop signs.
Have a serious injury and need legal advice? Contact Howard Blau.
Please Be Sure to Read the Following References:
“California bicyclists would be allowed to roll past stop signs under proposed law.” Los Angeles Times. 3 March 2017. Retrieved 16 March 2017 from http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-bike-stop-20170303-story.html.
Loranger, Timothy A. “California bicycle laws – A primer.” Advocate March 2017: 12-20.
“Sharing the Road (FFDL 37) Safety Tips for Bicyclists and Motorists.” Retrieved 16 March 2017 from https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/?1dmy&urile=wcm:path:/dmv_content_en/dmv/pubs/brochures/fast_facts/ffdl37.
“Ventura County, California – Code of Ordinances.” Ventura County, CA. 12 December 2016. Retrieved 6 April 2017 from https://www.municode.com/library/ca/ventura_county/codes/code_of_ordinances?nodeId=DIV7COVECOHI_CH1TROR_7105BI.