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Your Guide to California’s Bike Riding Laws

By Renee Nordstrand on May 29, 2020

There’s no better way to explore the natural beauty of California and get some fresh air than riding your bike. Bike riding is both fun and a great form of exercise, so it’s no wonder it’s such a popular pastime. However, bikes are subject to rules and regulations, like most other forms of transportation. If you plan on hopping on your bike anytime soon, there are some important rules you should know.

Safety Gear

Helmets are an incredibly important piece of safety gear when it comes to bike riding. While they certainly won’t prevent every possible injury, they do help protect you from skull fractures and brain damage. In California, anyone under the age of 18 years old is legally required to wear a helmet while riding on a bike. Once you are 18 years or older, you’re allowed to decide for yourself if you want to wear one, although they are always recommended for safety.

Riding on Sidewalks

There are no state laws addressing riding your bike on sidewalks. California has left that decision up to its cities. Some allow it, others don’t. If you are curious about whether you can or not, be sure to look up the local regulations.

In the city of Santa Barbara, however, bike riding on sidewalks is prohibited. Riders must use the road, or, if it is available, a bike lane. This is likely due to our high tourist traffic, which can easily crowd our sidewalks downtown. However, riding your bike on a road with heavy traffic can be dangerous, which is why there are many rules put in place to protect riders.

Taking Up Lanes

A bike rider is legally allowed to take up an entire lane if the road is too narrow for a car and bike to safely travel side by side. While some motorists dislike this, bike riders need to have a wide birth from the cars around them. A collision between a bike and car can be, and often is, deadly for the rider. Allowing a bicyclist to take up an entire lane adds an extra layer of safety to their ride.

However, if there are five or more cars behind the biker, then they are required to pull over when it is safe and allow the vehicles to pass them. This ensures that there is no backup of traffic, which can be dangerous for drivers and riders alike.

When Being Passed by a Car

If a car does pass you on the road, they are required to give you at least three feet of space. Similar to allowing bikes to take up an entire lane, this buffer space makes a collision less likely. If a car can’t safely pass with a three-foot buffer, then they are not allowed to pass and must wait for a safe opportunity to do so.

Act as If You Are in a Car

In California, bicycles are considered a type of vehicle, which means riders are expected to behave similarly to drivers of motor vehicles. You must adhere to all traffic signs and signals, as well as yield the right of way when appropriate. Bike riders may not dart between lanes of traffic or cars, even if there appears to be enough space to do so. You must also always indicate to those driving around you if you are turning or changing lanes by using the appropriate hand signals, just as a car would signal with its blinkers.

When bikes are involved in accidents with cars, the bike rider is almost always the one who suffers the most. If you have been injured in a bike accident that wasn’t your fault, you deserve proper representation and fair compensation. Contact NordstrandBlack PC at (805) 962-2022 and find out how our Santa Barbara bike accident attorneys can assist with your case.

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