Under California law, a bicycle is not considered a vehicle in the matter of traffic rules and regulations, but bicycle operation is still governed by many of the same traffic laws. The state under California Vehicle Code Section 21200 states that "Every person riding a bicycle upon a highway has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this division... except those provisions which by their very nature can have no application." To simplify what the statute is stating, bicycle riders have most of the same rights as drivers to use the streets.
Injuries to bicycle riders present many unique legal issues such as the following:
- Government immunities on public bike paths
- State laws concerning bicycles
- City laws concerning bicycle riding
- Injury concerns for minors
Government Immunities for Bike Paths
While many cyclists might assume that it is a smart decision to avoid main thoroughfares by instead taking trails and bikeways, it is often an even greater risk. This is because no city, county, or state government entity in California bears any legal responsibility for maintaining safe riding conditions on a paved bike path. This is due to court rulings that define the word "trail" in Government Code section 831.4 to include paved bike paths. This can make it difficult to win a case that involves an accident on a bike path as the government holds immunity.
However, bike lanes in streets are governed by different laws than bike paths, making it easier for a cyclist to potentially win their case if they get into a serious accident.
State Laws Concerning Bicycle Riding
When operating a bicycle, it is important to remember that State laws overrule local regulations as bicycle operation falls under the category of vehicle operation. As stated in California Vehicle Code Section 21:
"Except as otherwise expressly provided, the provisions of this code are applicable and uniform throughout the State and in all counties and municipalities therein, and no local authority shall enact or enforce any ordinance on the matters covered by this code unless expressly authorized herein."
Recent California law to improve safety for bicycle riders requires that vehicles approaching or attempting to overtake a cyclist must switch lanes if another lane is available. If another lane is not available, then vehicles must leave a 3-foot space cushion between themself and the bicyclist.
City Laws Concerning Bicycle Operation
A frequent issue that occurs when concerning bicycle operations is how the law is being interpreted by investigating police officers on issues such as how far to the right of a roadway a bicycle rider is obligated to ride. In our experience, law enforcement personnel frequently misinterpret the law. This can often result in police officers finding the bicyclist at fault for an incident that occurred when in reality that is often not the case.
Also, in roadways without bike lanes, there are two primary rules governing positions on the roadway. First, all traffic on the highway, including bicycles, must travel on the right-hand half of the highway. Second, all slower traffic, including bicycles, must keep farther to the right.
Injuries to Child Bicycle Riders
Often, child bicycle riders are involved in crashes with vehicles. These can involve serious lifelong injuries for the child involved. If your child is involved in a bicycle accident, it is important to consult an experienced attorney to help you evaluate the facts of the accident. This can include issues such as the driver's attentiveness, speed, and awareness of the child as well as the age of the child, if they were wearing a helmet, and if there was adult supervision at the time of the accident.
The purpose of traffic law is to promote safe and efficient traffic flow. This includes preserving the bicyclists' rights to share the roadways and preventing local authorities from limiting such rights. If you or someone you know is injured in a bicycle accident, it is a good idea to consult with an attorney who is experienced in handling bicycle injury claims. Kohn Law Office provides free initial consultation on injury claims, and all cases are handled on a contingency basis where there is no fee unless there is a recovery. If you have any questions, please call us at 760-721-8182.