Bicycle Laws In California [Rules, Regulations & More]

In 2014, California, “The Golden State,” ranked fourth among the fifty states among bicycle commuters. It’s not surprising, given the great weather and terrain. With a population of 39 million and growing, it’s important for bicyclists to know and follow the law.

What Does California classify As A Bicycle?

According to California Legislative, bicyclists, pedicabs, and e-bikes share the same responsibilities and regulations on the road as motor vehicles. This means you can share the road with vehicles as long as you go fast enough. If you’re moving slower than traffic, DMV recommends riding as close as possible to the right-hand side of the road.

Do Bicyclists Have to Obey Traffic Laws In California?

Yes, The Golden State classifies bicycles as vehicles. This means bicyclists have the same rights, and responsibilities, as motorists, including obeying all traffic signals, signs, lane markings, tunnels, school safety bus lights, etc.

Below are some of the traffic signs and signs bicyclists must follow and the action they must take.

Signals and Signs What’s Expected

  • Traffic Signals: Bicyclists are required to stop at all red lights and yield at yellow lights.
  • Bicycle Signals: California has implemented bicycle signals to help keep bicyclists safe.
  • Stop Signs: Bicyclists are allowed to treat stop signs and red flashing lights as yield signs, as long as there is no oncoming traffic.
  • School Bus Safety Lights: Like motor vehicles, bicycles are required to stop for a school bus that is operating red bus safety lights.
  • Riding on Sidewalks: Pedal bikes are allowed to ride on sidewalks, but e-bikes are not.
  • Construction Zones: Follow all the directions given by flaggers, detours, etc.

The state enacted laws to protect both bicyclists and motorists. 

However, there are some instances where bicyclists may need to disobey traffic laws to avoid a collision or stay safe.

For example, if a lane is too narrow for a motor vehicle and bicycle to share safely, the bicyclist can ride in the middle of the travel lane.

Different cities and municipalities in California have different rules on where bicycles and e-bikes are allowed to ride, so it’s best to check with your local authorities. Failure to comply with the laws can result in a Class B traffic violation.

Can You Get A DUI On A Bicycle In California?

According to the California Vehicle Code Section 21200.5, VC, cycling under the influence (CUI) is a punishable offense. In addition, violators 21 years of age or older are subject to a misdemeanor on their record and a fine of no more than $250.

Anyone under 21 but over 13 is subject to additional punishment such as:

  • suspended driving privileges of up to a year 
  • not being able to get your driver’s license for a year

According to the DMV, it is illegal for anyone to operate a vehicle with a BAC of 0.8% or higher. However, the state does not have a BAC regulation for cyclists. Therefore, if a police offer believes they are impaired, they arrest you and require you to submit to a chemical test of the blood, breath, or urine.

Riding around intoxicated is dangerous and is not worth the risk, even if you’re on two wheels.

Interstate Highways and Freeways

Yes, riding a bike on interstate highways and freeways in California is legal. However, cyclists are not allowed on interstates or freeways, with no exits or routes off the freeway. 

At the time of this writing, over 1,000 miles of California highways are legal for bikes to ride on.

That said, cyclists must ride on the rightmost portion of the roadway. In addition, groups must ride in a single file line unless there is a roadway hazard they must avoid to prevent an accident. Finally, when you see a sign that says “Bicycles Must Exit,” you must exit the nearest exit ramp.

Riding on portions of the freeways and interstates where bikes are prohibited is against the law, and you are subject to legal repercussions.

Riding on these roads is unsafe, and we do not recommend it. If you must ride on an interstate highway or freeway, use extreme caution, ride in the shoulder area, and be aware of the high traffic speeds around you.

Where to Ride A Bicycle In California?

California doesn’t require bicyclists to use specific bike paths or lanes and is expected to share the road with pedestrians and vehicles. However, some cities have designated bike paths that make for a safer and more enjoyable ride.

As a bicyclist, you are allowed to ride on the following as long as you abide by the rules:

  • Riding on Sidewalks: The California Vehicle Code Section 21206 permits local governments and authorities to set their own bicycle rules on sidewalks. Los Angeles allows cyclists on sidewalks, as long as they abide by the rules and ride at a safe speed. Other cities such as; Vista, Carlsbad, El Cajon, etc., prohibit bicyclists from riding on sidewalks.
  • Parking Lots: You can ride your bike through parking lots, but you must yield to pedestrians and ride at a safe speed.
  • Bike Lanes: These are designated lanes on the road for cyclists only. To use them, ride in the direction of traffic and yield to pedestrians who may be crossing.
  • Public Roads: You must ride in the same direction as vehicle traffic.
  • Bicyclists can share the road with vehicles and are not required to use a bike lane or shoulder.
  • E-bikes: are only allowed on sidewalks if a regular bike is.
  • Trails: At the time of this writing, California has over 359 trails covering 221 miles throughout the state.

Licenses and Permits

No, there is no requirement to have a license or permit to ride a bike or e-bike in the state of California. California treats e-bikes similarly to mopeds; however, there are different laws for e-bikes based on your bike type.

California defines an electric bike with pedals for human propulsion and a motor with less than 750 watts. Electric bikes fall into the following three categories.

  • Class 1: A bicycle with a motor that requires pedaling to activate it. Once the bicycle reaches 20 mph, the motor stops.
  • Class 2: An e-bike that can reach 20 mph without the rider having to pedal.
  • Class 3: This bike has a speedometer and pedal-assist motor that reaches 28 mph.

Anyone operating a class 3 category must be 16 years of age. In addition, all electric bicycle riders, regardless of age, must wear a DOT-approved safety helmet.

Does California Have A Bicycle Helmet Law?

No, there is no state-mandated federal helmet law. That said, the laws are set by the local authorities and not the state. This means you must find out what the laws are in your city, as they can vary.

The state requires everyone to wear a helmet when riding an electric bicycle. This is because these bikes can reach higher speeds than a pedal bicycle.

Is It Illegal To Ride A Bike In California Without A Helmet?

No, unless you live in an area where the local ordinance states you must wear a helmet, it is not illegal to ride without a helmet.

Even though the state does not require helmets unless riding an e-bike, everyone is still highly encouraged to wear one. Wearing a helmet can protect you from severe injury or death in the event of an accident, so it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

How to Find the Bike Laws In My Local Ordinance?

The Department of transportation creates the laws that all vehicle motorists must follow. However, the state allows cities and counties to enact their own ordinances as long as they don’t conflict with the state laws.

You’ll need to contact your city or county clerk’s office to find out the bike laws in your local area.

Can You Ride A Bike At Night In California?

Yes, however, you must utilize bicycle lights for a half hour before and after sunset. This ensures other vehicles on the road can see you, and you can see them.

For bicyclists, a white front light is required and must be visible at least 500 feet or more. The back of the bicycle must have a working red reflector, visible up to 600 feet. In addition, the bikes must have working brakes that allow the rider to stop on dry, wet, and level pavement.

It’s harder for drivers to see at night, so it’s essential to be as visible as possible when riding after dark. Wearing reflective clothing is also a good idea.

Can You Carry A Passenger On A Bicycle In California?

It is not illegal to carry a passenger on your bicycle, as long as the bicycle has an attached seat that enables you to attach a seat safely. 

Children under 40 pounds can ride on a front or back-mounted child seat.

Bicycle passengers under 18 years of age cannot ride as a passenger without a properly fitted and fastened bicycle helmet.

Can You Wear Headphones While Riding A Bicycle In California?

California prohibits all bicyclists from wearing headphones while sharing public roads with other vehicles. This is because the headphones impair the rider and prevent them from hearing traffic, horns, and other warning sounds.

What To Do When You’re Involved In A Bicycle Accident?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), over 48,000 cyclists are involved in accidents yearly. Unfortunately, children under the age of 15 accounts for 60% f hospitalized injuries.

Anyone who rides a bicycle must be aware of the dangers they face every time they get on the road. Wearing a helmet, obeying traffic laws, and being visible are all critical safety measures that can help prevent an accident.

However, even the safest bicyclist can’t always avoid an accident. If you are involved in a bicycle accident, here are some steps you should follow:

  • Report the accident to the police and DMV.
  • Seek medical attention. Most injuries appear hours or days after the accident (so you need a record of the injuries linking to the bicycle accident.)
  • Move the bicycle out of the roadway to avoid getting hit again.
  • Gather the names and contact information of the vehicle driver.
  • Get the names and contact information of all witnesses.
  • Stay at the scene until law enforcement arrives.

If you’re involved in a bicycle accident, we recommend contacting an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. They will help you navigate the legal process and ensure fair compensation for your injuries.

The right attorney can help file a claim so you can get compensated for the following:

  • Medical expenses
  • Pain and suffering
  • Lost wages
  • Damage to your bicycle
  • Emotional distress

An experienced bicycle accident lawyer will also know how to deal with insurance companies and their adjusters. They will work to get you the maximum amount of compensation possible.

Final Word

California classifies bicycles as vehicles and requires bicyclists to follow the same road rules as motorists. This means that cyclists must ride in the same direction as traffic, yield to pedestrians, and use hand signals when turning.

E-bicycles are also classified as vehicles, depending on their motor output. E-bicycles with a motor output of fewer than 750 watts and a maximum speed of 20 mph are considered bicycles.

E-bicycles with a motor output over 750 watts or a maximum speed over 28 mph are classified as mopeds, motorcycles, or motorized scooters and are subject to different laws.

It’s essential to know the laws governing bicycles and e-bicycles in California so that you can ride safely and avoid violating the law.

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