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Auto-Bicycle Accident Law in California


There are hundreds of thousandsof accidents between automobiles and bicycles each year in the United States. These accidents often have severe consequences for the cyclists involved (and sometimes for the motorists too), so it is crucial for each party to understand their rights and duties under California law.

Duties of Motorists and Cyclists to Each Other

Motorists and cyclists owe each other a duty to act with reasonable care while on the road, and both must follow certain rules of the road as outlined by the California Vehicle Code (CVC). If an accident is caused by a motorist speeding, driving recklessly, running a stop sign, drifting into a bike lane, or otherwise not respecting the right of a cyclist to use the road, the motorist has breached their duty and owes the cyclist compensation for the harm caused. Likewise, if a cyclist breaches their duty, they could be deemed at-fault in causing the accident. For any given accident, fault could lie with the auto-driver, the cyclist, or both.

Specific Laws Applying to Cyclists

There are a few specific laws that apply to bicycles in California. If a cyclist is moving slower than traffic, under CVC 21202 they must "ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway." If a road has a bike lane, this can generally mean staying in the bike lane; however it is important to note that if for some reason it becomes "impracticable" to stay in the bike lane because of an obstruction or poor condition, cyclists are allowed to move into the main lane of traffic to get around it. Also, cyclists can (and should) move into a left-hand lane to make a left-hand turn.

Under CVC 27400, cyclists are not allowed to wear headphones or a headset covering both ears as they ride. When riding at night, having a bike light in the front and a reflector in the back of the bike is required under CVC 2101. While there is a law prohibiting motorists from talking on a hand-held cell phone, there is no parallel law in California preventing people from talking on a cell phone while riding; but I wouldn't recommend doing it.

Basic Safety Tips

The California DMV recommends these four basic safety tips for cyclists:

  • Maintain control of your bicycle.
  • Protect yourself—reduce the risk of head injury by always wearing a helmet. (Cyclists under the age of 18 are legally required to wear a helmet.)
  • Be visible, alert, and communicate your intentions.
  • Ride with traffic.

Motorists should always watch for cyclists at intersections, and be patient when passing a cyclist on the road. When passing, the DMV recommends allowing clearance of at least three feet.

The dangers of drunk driving get a lot of attention, and rightfully so, but it should also be remembered that riding a bicycle drunk is highly dangerous as well. And, it is also against the law. A 2013 study conducted by the federal government revealed that alcohol was involved in 34% of all fatal auto-cyclist crashes and that 24% of cyclists killed in these accidents were intoxicated. Riding a bicycle while legally intoxicated is illegal under CVC 21200.5.

If you have been involved in a bicycle accident, a qualified bicycle accident attorney can help you understand your rights. If you would like more information, we can help. Please, contact the Law Offices of Scott D. Hughes today for a free consultation at 714-423-6928.

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