Riding on the Right – Exceptions to the Practicable

In my last blog, I discussed the requirement to ride as far to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway as is practicable, primarily in the context of the California Vehicle Code. There are, however, several exceptions contained in the remaining paragraphs of section 21202. California Vehicle Code section 21202 states:

a) 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:

(1) When overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction.

(2) When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.

(3) 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 along the right-hand curb or edge, subject to the provisions of Section 21656. For purposes of this section, a “substandard width lane” is a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.

(4) When approaching a place where a right turn is authorized.

(b) Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway of a highway, which highway carries traffic in one direction only and has two or more marked traffic lanes, may ride as near the left-hand curb or edge of that roadway as practicable.

(Vehicle Code sec. 21202.)

Some of these are pretty straightforward, but some may require more explanation. This is basically what they mean –

  • You are passing a bike or a car that is going slower than you are. Yes, cars. It happens often on city streets with traffic.
  • When you are preparing to make a left turn. You need to stay on the right half of the road, although you don’t need to stay far right. (Albrecht v. Broughton, 6 Cal. App. 3d 173, 180-181 (1970).)
  •  When you need to avoid unsafe conditions such as glass, dogs, tree branches, etc. This may seem redundant with the requirement to ride as far to the right as is practicable and may suggest that the term “practicable” may in fact mean “possible.” However, while commentators find the drafting odd, they nonetheless find that practicable still means practicable, because if it were meant to mean as far right as possible, then “possible,” then would have been used. (Mionkske, Bob, Bicycling and the Law (Boulder, Colorado: VeloPress, 2007), p 58.)

  • You are riding in a lane that is too narrow for a car or another bike to travel alongside you. In such a situation it is actually considered safer to ride in the center of the lane, because it makes you more visible. This is called “taking the lane.” On a multilane road vehicles can pass by using the lane to the left. On a one-lane road, vehicles can pass if visibility and oncoming traffic allow and if permitted on that segment of the road. This has been a controversial element in California bicycle law, because it makes passing impermissible on one-lane roads where a double yellow line prohibits passing on the other side of road. For the last two years, legislation to remedy this issue has been proposed, but has not successfully passed.

  • When you are riding in a lane permitting right turns you may ride near the right edge of the next lane to the left in order to avoid  getting trapped by, or colliding with, vehicles turning right. This type of collision is often referred to as a “right hook.”

  • If you are riding on a one-way street you can ride on the left side.

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