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A Bicyclist's Survival Guide

The Rules of the Road per the California Vehicle Code

Recently, I have noticed an increase in bicycle related collisions involving vehicles and thought it might be a good idea to explain a bicyclist's expectations on the road according to the California Vehicle Code (CVC). I would guesstimate that 90%, or possibly more, of the citizens residing in the City of Livermore do not know a bicyclists expectations or rules of the road according to the CVC.

Before getting into specific CVC laws pertaining to bicyclists, I would like to describe one of the more reoccurring bicycle/vehicle collisions that I see most often. In the following example, I will use the intersection of North Livermore Avenue and Portola Avenue. North Livermore Avenue is a major street in Livermore with traffic lanes and sidewalks running in a north and south direction. Portola Avenue in this area, runs in an east and west direction. Picturing this intersection for the following example:

A bicyclist is riding south on North Livermore along the east sidewalk approaching the intersection of Portola Avenue. The bicyclist slows approaching the intersection, notices that east/west traffic on Portola Avenue is stopped, and then proceeds to ride off the sidewalk and enters into the crosswalk, or roadway, to cross Portola Avenue.

At this same time, a vehicle driving west on Portola Avenue is stopped for the traffic control signal at North Livermore Avenue. The vehicle is waiting to make a right turn from Portola Avenue onto North Livermore Avenue, and is parallel against the right-hand curb. The driver is looking to his/her left, waiting for a break in traffic. The driver sees an opening/break in traffic and begins to drive forward to make a right turn onto North Livermore Avenue. The bicyclist rides off the sidewalk, down into the crosswalk/street, and is struck by the vehicle making the right turn.

So, who do you think is at fault in this collision? Do some additional questions need to be asked or clarified? Such as, was the pedestrian cross walk signal flashing "walk" or "don't walk?" Ok, well, let's say that in this example, the light was flashing "walk", giving pedestrians the "right-of-way" to cross the road. But did you read the words in that last sentence? The light was flashing "walk", giving pedestrians the "right-of-way."

I will admit, not all collisions are black and white. In some collisions such as this, the driver of the vehicle will admit that he/she did not look prior to making the turn. In others the driver will explain that he/she was looking while making the turn and that the bicyclist "darted" out from the sidewalk. After all, a bicyclist certainly has the ability to move at a much faster pace than of someone walking.

In each collision, I will look at all the "evidence" and make a determination on who is at fault based on my training, experience, and the CVC. And while the primary collision factor (PCF) in many of these vehicle/bicycle collisions varies between the driver (vehicle) and bicyclist being at fault, usually every collision report will minimally list the bicyclist as being an "associated factor" in the collision,…and here is why.

I preparation for my assignment as a Traffic Motorcycle Officer investigating collisions, I have learned the following according to CVC (the numbers in parenthesis are CVC definitions):

  • A Bicyclist (231 CVC) IS NOT a Pedestrian (467(a)(1) CVC).
  • A Bicyclist (231 CVC) IS NOT a Vehicle (670 CVC)
  • A Bicyclist DOES fall under the definition of Traffic (620 CVC ["other conveyances"])
  • A Sidewalk (555 CVC) IS part of a Highway (360 CVC)
  • A Roadway (530 CVC) is defined as "… that portion of a highway improved, designed, or ordinarily used for VEHICLUAR travel."
  • A Sidewalk IS NOT a Roadway

So, with these definitions in mind,...

21200(a) CVC is a definitive section explaining that a Bicyclist riding on the highway is subject and expected to follow all the rules of the road as a driver of a vehicle. This includes Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol/Drugs, accident report, wearing audio/radio type headsets, lighting during darkness, and all other rules of the road (stopping at stop signs/traffic signals, riding in the same direction as vehicle traffic, etc.).

This INCLUDES a Bicyclist on a Highway (Sidewalk).

21202 CVC - Bicyclist Too Slow; explains that when a bicyclist is riding in the roadway, the bicyclist is required to ride in the same direction as the flow traffic and as near to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway as practicable. Some exceptions to this rule are also mentioned

21650.1 CVC - Bicycle Riding the Wrong Way; requires that "A bicycle operated on a roadway, or the shoulder of a highway, shall be operated in the same direction as vehicles are required to be driven upon the highway."

DOES NOT apply to Bicyclists on a SIDEWALK

21802(a) CVC - Stop Sign @ Intersection; is a "Right-Of-Way" violation at a stop sign or flashing red signal intersection. This section explains that drivers are required to stop at an intersection and yield to any "vehicles" approaching from another highway.

A Bicyclist IS NOT considered a Vehicle

21804(a) CVC - Highway, Yield When Entering; is a "Right-Of-Way" violation from a private driveway. This section explains that drivers, when entering a roadway from private property or an alley, are required to yield to approaching "traffic" close enough to be a hazard.

A Bicyclist IS included in the definition of Traffic

I typically use these CVC definition and violation sections during most bicycle vs. vehicle collision investigations.

So, with these CVC sections in mind, let's review the example from earlier. Riding bicycles along the sidewalk within the City of Livermore is legal. Usually, some type of city municipal code restricts bicycles from riding on sidewalks. The City of Livermore has no such municipal code, so in this example, the bicyclist riding along the sidewalk is perfectly legal. However, at the crosswalk, the critical issue is that the bicyclist rode off the sidewalk and entered into the crosswalk/street. At this time, the bicyclist is riding south on North Livermore Avenue from the east sidewalk , against the northbound vehicle traffic. As explained above, this IS a violation of 21650.1 CVC and even 21202 CVC.

In this example, the bicyclist, because of his/her actions of riding off/leaving the sidewalk and riding down into and entering the roadway, would have been listed as either the primary PCF, or minimally as an associated collision factor. Had the bicyclist been riding WITH the flow of traffic as required, the bicyclist would have had the right-of-way. Legally, the bicyclist should have gotten off of his/her bicycle and walked the bicycle across the roadway. This would have not only been safer for the bicyclist, but would have offered the bicyclist-turned-pedestrian more right-of-way protection through the CVC.

Additional requirements to consider are City of Livermore Municipal Codes (LMC).  These codes address health, safety, and public nuisance problems that the CVC and California Penal Code (CPC) do not specifically cover and further assist in maintaining the great quality of life for the citizens of Livermore.  Typically, a violation of a LMC results in a citation, similar to a citation for a traffic violation.  Below, I have summarized a few Livermore Municipal Codes that bicyclists should be aware of:

LMC Section 10.44.100 – Bicycle Lanes, Cyclist to Ride at Right Side
Requires that while riding in a bicycle lane or on a bicycle path, a bicyclist must ride to the furthermost right-hand portion of the lane or path when possible.

LMC Section 10.44.120 – Bicycle Lanes, Stopping Restrictions for Riders
States that a bicyclist may stop in bicycle lane or on a bicycle path after giving the appropriate signal, providing that the bicyclist has not blocked the lane/path such that at least one moving bicyclist may pass him/her (stopped) and still be in the lane/path. 

 LMC Section 10.44.130 – Riding on Sidewalks and Playgrounds,  Restrictions
 A) States that no person shall ride a bicycle upon a sidewalk except in residential areas, or where such riding ispermitted. (B) States that whenever any person is riding a bicycle upon a sidewalk, such person shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian, and shall give an audible signal before overtaking and passing such pedestrian.

As you can see, rules of the road for bicyclists can be somewhat complex. As Police Officers having to investigate bicycle collisions, bicyclists are looked at in the same context as a motorcyclist. Meaning, a bicyclist needs to follow all the rules of the road that a motorcyclist has to follow. If a bicyclist uses this as a rule of thumb, I feel that they will be safer, and will certainly be more protected according to the CVC.

As a final note, I would like to remind bicyclists of how IMPORTANT it is to wear a helmet and to have the proper lighting, front and rear, during hours of darkness. Please ride responsibly and safely.