California Bicycle Laws [2019]

According to ARTICLE 4. Operation of Bicycles [21200 – 21213] of the California Vehicle Code, which contains California Bicycle Laws,  pretty much all the same rights and responsibilities that apply to car drivers apply to bicycle riders as well.

California Bicycle Laws are there for the safety and protection of everyone on public roads. Following them can help prevent accidents and tragedies, and make the roads safer for everyone. Unfortunately, according to the California Department of Public Health, 189 people lost their lives in bicycle accidents throughout the state in 2016.

To help spread awareness amongst bicyclists and car drivers, we’ve created a summary of California Bicycle Laws. These summaries also include a one-sentence takeaway to help you remember the laws.

Summary of California Bicycle Laws

1. C.V.C. 21200 Operating a Bicycle

This section states a bicycle rider has the same rights and responsibilities as a driver of a vehicle including laws pertaining to Driving Under the Influence of Drugs or Alcohol. It also excludes provisions from that cannot apply to bicycle riders. This means a cyclist must obey all traffic signals, share the road, follow stop signs and right of way.

Takeaway: Bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as a regular car driver.

2. C.V.C. 21200.5 Bicycle DUI

Bicyclists have different regulations to follow from operating a bicycle under the influence of alcohol and drugs. If suspected, the arresting officer may request a blood or urine or ask you to blow into a breathalyzer. The fine will be up to $250 and violations are subject to Section 13202.5

Takeaway: You cannot operate a bicycle under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.

3. C.V.C. 21201 Minimum Bicycle Requirements

These requirements apply to bicycle on public roads:

  • The bike must be equipped with a brake that can enable the rider to stop one wheel on a dry, level, clean pavement.
  • The handlebars must be below the bike operator’s shoulder level.
  • The bicycle must allow the rider to sit in an upright position and put one foot on the ground.
  • Any bicycle that is operated in the dark (on public roads) must be equipped with the following:
    • A light source that emits white light
    • A red reflector on the back of the bicycle
    • White or yellow reflectors on the pedals.
    • The law allows for the operator to attach a white light source visible from a distance of 300 feet on herself or himself instead of the first requirement.

Takeaway: Most bicycle manufacturers adhere to these requirements but it’s always good to doublecheck. 

4. C.V.C. 21202 Cycling Slower than Traffic

A bicyclist traveling slower than the speed of traffic, in the same direction as the traffic, should ride as close to the right-hand curb as they can. There are some exceptions like overtaking another cyclist, taking a left turn, or avoiding hazards such as parked cars.

A bicyclist can ride near the left lane curb if they are on a one-way street with two or more lanes.

Takeaway: If you’re traveling slower than cars around you, stay close to the rightmost lane curb.

5. C.V.C. 21203 Hitching a Bike

No person riding a motorcycle, motorized bicycle, bicycle, coaster, roller skates, sled, or toy vehicle can attach the ride or himself to any vehicle on the roadway.

Takeaway: Don’t hitch a ride while biking

5. C.V.C. 21204 Riding with Passengers

Unless there is a permanent and attached seat or the bicycle was manufactured to be used without a seat, riders are not allowed to have passengers. If a person weighs 40 pounds or less or is less than four years old, the individual can be a passenger on an elevated seat that protects him or her from the moving parts of the bicycle.

Takeaway: Don’t take passengers on your bicycle unless you have an extra permanent seat.

6. C.V.C. 21205 Carrying Packages

Riders are not allowed to carry any package or article that prevents them from holding at least one hand on the bicycle’s handlebar.

Takeaway: Don’t carry packages if it prevents you from holding at least one handlebar.

7. C.V.C. 21206 Bike Registration

Local authorities, through ordinances, can regulate the registration and parking of bicycles as long as they don’t conflict with the California Vehicle Code.

Takeaway: Be aware of local ordinances on registration and parking of bicycles.

8. C.V.C. 21207 Creating Bike Lanes

Local authorities can establish, by ordinance or resolution, bicycle lanes on highways other than state highways.

Takeaway: Not relevant to most bicyclists.

9. C.V.C. 21208 Using Bicycle Lanes

Whenever there is a bicycle lane and the rider is traveling less than the speed of normal traffic moving in the same direction as the traffic, the rider must stay in the bicycle lane. There are a few exceptions:

  • To overtake another bicyclist or pedestrian in the lane
  • When preparing to take a left turn at an intersection or driveway
  • When necessary to avoid hazardous conditions

The individual can only leave the bicycle lane when it is reasonably safe and after they give the appropriate hand signal to nearby cars.

Takeaway: Stick to the bicycle lane but if you have to leave, signal your intentions.

10. C.V.C. 21209 Vehicles in Bicycle Lanes

Cars are not allowed in bicycle lanes except:

  • When permitted to park
  • To enter or leave the roadway
  • To prepare for a turn within a distance of 200 feet

Motorbikes are allowed in bicycle lanes as long as they drive at a reasonable speed, in visible conditions and do not endanger bicyclists.

Takeaway: Anticipate vehicles entering the bicycle lane.

11. C.V.C. 21210 Parking a Bicycle

Bicycles cannot be parked on its sides or left in a way that impedes pedestrian traffic. Local authorities, by ordinances, may regulate the parking of bicycles in designated areas of public highways.

Takeaway: Park your bicycle upright and clear of pedestrian walking paths

12. C.V.C. 21211 Obstructing a Bike Path

It is unlawful for anyone (with a few exceptions) to impede or “block the normal and reasonable movement” of bicyclists in a bike lane.

Takeaway: Unless authorized, do not park or block a bike lane for any reason.

12. C.V.C. 21212 Helmets

Anyone under the age of 18 must use an approved helmet as a passenger or operator of a bicycle. An approved helmet meets the standards of either the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) or the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

The charge can be dismissed if the person charged declares under oath that it is their first violation of this section. Otherwise, the infraction is punishable by a fine not more than $25. Parents will be held liable for the fine.

Takeaway: If you’re under 18, wear a helmet while riding a bike.

13. C.V.C. 21213 Electric Scooters

Anyone under the age of 16 is not allowed to operate an electric scooter and any person over the age of 16 riding an electric scooter in public roadways must wear an approved helmet.

Takeaway: Wear a helmet if you’re using an electric scooter.

14. C.V.C. 21650 Direction of Traffic

Bicyclists who ride on a public road must ride in the direction of traffic. It is against California law to do so otherwise.

Takeaway: Cycle in the direction of traffic.

15. C.V.C. 21960 Bicycles on Freeways

Local authorities have the right to control bicycle use along freeways or highways. If it is allowed, then there will be appropriate signage.

Takeaway: Look out for signage that allows you to ride along a freeway or highway.

16. C.V.C. 22111 Bicycles on Freeways

California has standardized the use of hand signals. They are:

  • By extending the hand horizontally to the left side of the bicycle, the operator is indicating a left turn
  • By extending the hand horizontally to the right side of the bicycle, the operator is indicating a right turn
  • By extending the left hand down next to the bicycle, the operator is a slowdown of speed

Takeaway: Bicyclists and car drivers should learn and recognize the hand signals.

17. C.V.C. 23330 Toll Roads

Unless given a special permit from the Department of Transportation, bicyclists are not allowed on toll bridges.

Takeaway: Do not attempt to use a toll bridge unless you have the permit.

18. C.V.C. 27400 Headphones while Biking

California law does not allow bicyclists to use headphones in both ears while riding a bike on a public roadway. This is to keep the rider aware of horns and other traffic movements. There are some exceptions for emergency vehicle operators.

Takeaway: If you must use a headphone while using your bike, use one side only.

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