Many Californians are choosing to eschew cars in favor of bicycles for many reasons. Some want to improve their personal health and wellbeing, while others want to cut commuting costs or simply enjoy riding outdoors. While bicycling is great for the environment and cost-effective, cyclists in California should know the laws surrounding bicycles. And doing this will help reduce the frequency of bicycle accidents with cars and other hazards on the road.
Liability in Bicycle Accidents
California law considers bicycles as vehicles, meaning that bicyclists must follow the same rules of the road as any other motor vehicle. The same is true in all other states. If a bicycle and a car collide, the courts determine fault through concept of negligence. The fact that a bicycle doesn’t afford its operator the same level of protection as a car affords its driver does not necessarily weigh in as a factor. If a bicyclist is negligent and causes an accident, he or she cannot sue for injuries and damages.
California follows a comparative negligence law, meaning that the courts may reduce the compensation they award to plaintiffs in a personal injury case if they find the plaintiff to be partially at fault for the incident in question. Typically, if the plaintiff’s fault percentage is more than 50%, he or she cannot sue for damages.
Tips for Bicyclists
As a bicyclist, there are a few proactive steps you can take to ensure you ride within the bounds of the law and mitigate the possibility of a seriously injurious or fatal accident. Use good judgement; a bicycle is no match for any other motor vehicle in almost all scenarios, so always consider this fact when riding.
- Keep to the Right. Bicyclists should stay as far to the right in their lane as possible, except when continuing straight next to a right-turn lane or if intending to make a left turn.
- Signal. Bicycles do not have turn signals like cars do, so use hand signals to let other drivers know when you intend to change lanes or turn. A bicyclist that suddenly turns can cause other drivers to react poorly at the last second, potentially causing accidents.
- Use Bike Lanes. If the street you are riding on has a bicycle lane, use it! Cities have these lanes painted on roadways where traffic moves faster than most bicyclists do, so it’s a good idea to stay in the bike lane if one is present.
- Move with the Flow of Traffic. If you are moving as fast as the cars around you, take a lane just like any other car. Always ride in the same direction as the traffic moving in your lane.
- Avoid Highways and Freeways. It is illegal to ride a bicycle on the highway or freeway, even if you keep to the shoulder. Not only could this result in heavy fines if you do so, it is also incredibly dangerous. Cars on the highways and freeways are typically travelling 55 miles per hour or more, making it very difficult to stop suddenly should a bicycle enter a lane.
- Use Proper Safety Gear. Always wear a helmet while riding a bicycle in California. Although it is optional for riders over the age of 18, the law requires all riders under 18 to wear helmets. You should also consider using reflectors or attaching reflective tape to your bike to make you more visible to other drivers while riding at night.
Bicycling is fantastic for the environment, a great way to keep in shape, and a good method for saving money that would otherwise be spent on gas. Despite these advantages, it is imperative for California bicyclists to always consider the risky nature of riding in traffic and take the appropriate care while riding at all times.