Our attorneys seek justice for injury victims in the San Diego and Riverside areas.

Bicycle Safety: What are the Responsibilities of Bicyclists?

| Feb 23, 2015 | Bicycle Accidents

California roads are becoming more crowded as bicycles and cars increasingly share the same roadway. Locally, San Diego added over 39 miles of “buffered bike lanes” to city streets in 2013. According to the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), buffered bike lanes are “conventional bicycle lanes paired with a designated buffer space separating the bicycle lane from the adjacent motor vehicle travel lane and/or parking lane.” In many cases these lanes are directly in the same traffic lane as the motor vehicle and only separated by actual markings on the road. The addition of these bike lanes has resulted in a significant increase in accidents and cyclist fatalities on the roadway.

Between 2010 and 2012, cyclist deaths in the United States increased by 16%. During this time period, California led the nation in cyclist deaths as a result of accidents or collisions with motor vehicles. According to the Institute for Highway Safety, two major factors played a role in the majority of these collisions: cyclists not wearing helmets and cyclists who were intoxicated.

If you are one of the many bike riding San Diegans, it is important to understand your legal responsibilities as a bicycle operator, not only to protect yourself but also to understand the legal implications should you get to an accident. The following is a brief look into a number of the bicycle safety laws under California law.

Required Bicycle Safety Equipment

Under California Vehicle Code Section 21201, certain bicycle safety equipment is required to operate a bicycle on a roadway or highway. The following is a list of required equipment standards:

  • Brakes: Every bicycle must have a functional brake system.
  • Handlebars: The bicycle must be equipped with handlebars.
  • Size: The rider must be able to place a foot on the ground when the bicycle is stopped.
  • Light and Reflectors in the Dark: including a lamp; red reflector visible from the rear, white/yellow reflector on each pedal, and reflectors on the tires or sides of bicycle

No Horn Required

No horn is required to ride a bicycle on roadways or highways. Under the California Vehicle Code, a bicycle is not defined as a “vehicle”; therefore, there is no requirement that a bicycle be equipped with a horn or a bell.  However, if a bicycle has a motor attached, it is deemed a “motorized bicycle” and thus it must comply with all the laws pertaining to the operation of a motor vehicle.

Bicycling on roadway or shoulder

According to California law, if a bike is ridden on a roadway or shoulder then that bike must be operated in the same direction as the vehicles driving on the roadway. The California Vehicle Code also provides more instruction concerning the operation of a bicycle on a roadway, including:

  • Right Side: the bicyclist must ride as close to the right-hand curb as practicable; unless passing, turning left, avoiding conditions or approaching a place where a right turn is authorized.
  • One Way Street: If the one way street has two or more lanes for motor vehicle traffic then the bicyclist can ride as close to the left-hand curb “as practicable.”

Bicycling on a Sidewalk

An individual is allowed to ride a bicycle on a sidewalk, through a crosswalk or on a bicycle path crossing, in either direction. Either direction means against traffic or with the flow of traffic.

Bicyclist Intoxication

It is against the law to operate a bicycle while “under the influence of alcoholic beverages or drugs.” The same provisions which apply to driving under the influence directly apply to a person who rides a bicycle upon a highway or roadway.

No Hitching Rides

A bicyclist cannot attach themselves to a “street car or motor vehicle” while on the roadway and hitch-a-ride.

Carrying Articles

A cyclist cannot carry an item which requires them to take both hands off of the handlebars. If a cyclist can carry the package and keep at least one hand upon the handlebars, then he or she is lawfully permitted to ride with that package.


Under California law, a person may only ride on a permanent or regular seat, unless the bicycle was designed by the manufacturer to be ridden without a seat.  The same law applies to passengers riding on the bike as well. The major exception to this law is when the passenger is four years or younger and weighs less than 40 pounds, and in that event the child can ride in a safe child seat.


Under a 1994 mandatory helmet law, all persons under the age of 18 must wear a ASTM or CPSC approved helmet.

Proposed New Helmet Law:

A new bill may extend this helmet requirement to all riders of all ages. On February 11th, Democratic Senator Carol Liu, who represents the 25th Senate District, introduced SB 192. The bill would require all bicycle riders to wear helmets or face a fine of $25. The bill would also require bike riders to wear reflective clothing while riding at night. The bill is an extension of a 1994 mandatory helmet law which applies to all persons under the age of 18.

If you’ve been involved in a bicycle accident, contact an experienced Riverside and San Diego bicycle accident attorney to evaluate your claim.  The attorneys at Martinez & Schill LLP offer free consultations.  Call us at 619-512-5995 or (951) 400-4630.