When I started this blog, I wanted to do something different than the usual race reports, equipment reviews, etc. Being a lawyer, I also wanted to blog about bicycling and sports law and policy. I must qualify blogs on such topics by stating that I specialize in neither of these areas (I practice water and natural resources law). This blog is not legal advice, so if you need representation in such matters, you should consult with a licensed attorney who specializes in, and is knowledgable of, bicycle law (they do exist). I should also add that, although I do my research, this is not a peer reviewed law review journal. If you need a references, check my references.
If you want to know more about bicycle law, I highly recommend Bicycling and the Law: Your Rights as a Cyclist, by Bob Mionske, J.D. (available on Amazon). The League of American Bicyclists has a summary of bicycle-specific laws for each state on its website. If you live in California a good reference is Bicycles and the Law: The Case of California (8 ENVIRONS, ENVIRONMENTAL LAW AND POLICY JOURNAL 105–124 (May 1995) University of California, Davis, Environmental Law Society). The first place you should look, however, is the vehicle or traffic code of your state. While traffic and tort laws vary from state to state, many have adopted portions of the Uniform Vehicle Code, a model code developed by the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances to assist state and local governments in developing traffic laws. Sometimes local ordinances may apply. In California, however, state traffic laws preempt local laws unless state law specifically says otherwise. (Cal. Veh. Code sec. 21.)
Probably the number one issue have run into with motorists is how far to the right you must ride your bike. In California, the applicable law is Vehicle Code section 21202. The language in Vehicle Code section 21202 has been incorporated into the Uniform Vehicle Code and adopted by a number of states, although others adhere to earlier, more restrictive language requires bicyclists to keep to the always keep right. (Uniform Veh. Code, sec. 11-1205.) The most important paragraph in 21202, and the focus of this blog, is paragraph (a), which states:
Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except under any of the following situations…
This is often referred to as the “slow bicycle rule.” There are several exceptions to this paragraph, but they are not the immediate focus of this blog.
- You are riding a bicycle.
- You are riding on a “roadway.” The “roadway” is the part of the road that is improved, designed, or ordinarily used by vehicular traffic. (Cal. Vehicle Code sec. 530.) It is generally the section between the white lines. (Caltrans letter ) It does not include the shoulder, because the shoulder is not improved, designed, or ordinarily used by vehicular traffic, and neither does it include the sidewalk (although such areas are considered part of the “highway”). Bicycles are allowed to ride on the shoulder, but they are not required to ride on the shoulder. (Cal. Vehicle Code sec. 21650.1.)
- You are riding slower than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction and at that time. If there is no other traffic, section 21202 does not apply. If you are riding in traffic and traffic is either at a stand-still or moving very slowly this does not apply.