Cycling is increasingly popular across California, as state residents try to leave their cars at home in favor of healthier ways to get about. In fact, organizations like the California Bicycle Coalition want to double the amount of cycling in the state by 2017 and triple it within a further three-year period. Nonetheless, if cyclists are to exist harmoniously alongside cars and other vehicles, it's crucial that everyone becomes familiar with the law. Here are four key Californian cycling laws you should know about.
Riding while under the influence
It's illegal to ride a bicycle in California while you're under the influence of drugs or alcohol. For a successful conviction, prosecutors must prove that:
- You were riding a bicycle
- You rode on a public highway or pathway designated for vehicles (like a cycle path)
- You were under the influence while riding
DUI charges are not always easy to prove. For example, police officers will not normally routinely carry out a chemical test to examine your blood alcohol limit, so your attorney would probably challenge how they deduced that you were DUI. Interestingly, this law doesn't apply to unicycles, either, as they don't have the equipment that defines a bicycle under Californian law. Nonetheless, keen unicyclists still shouldn't drink and ride.
Use of bicycle lanes
The Californian authorities continue to invest in dedicated cycle lanes. Cycle lanes offer several benefits, particularly when it comes to safety for cyclists and other road users. Nonetheless, when it comes to these lanes, Californian cyclists must observe certain rules.
If there's a bicycle lane on a roadway, you must ride on this part of the road if you are moving more slowly than the traffic. The only exceptions are when you turn left, pass bikes or cars, avoid a hazard or turn right (where such a turn is legal).
You don't normally have to ride single file on a cycle lane, but check local laws. In some cases, these laws may restrict when you can ride side-by-side. Common sense should apply, too. Legally, you cannot normally stop or park on a bicycle lane.
Roads you can use
If there's no cycle lane, you may decide to ride on the road, but you must stick to certain rules.
You must ride in the same direction as traffic on a roadway or highway shoulder. You cannot normally ride on a freeway or expressway, either. What's more, in much the same way as the laws about cycle lanes apply, you must travel on the right side of the roadway, except when passing, turning or avoiding a hazard.
If you plan to use a toll bridge, check if you can do so before you get on the bridge. Unless a sign tells you this is OK, it is probably illegal to do so.
If you drive a car in California, you must stick to any rules about the equipment the vehicle must have, such as rear-view mirrors and lights. What you may not realize is that there are also various rules about the bike you ride, too.
If you want to ride a bike, it must:
- Have a seat
- Have handlebars that are no higher than your shoulders
- Have brakes that can make one braked wheel skid on a dry, level pavement
- Be small enough for you to stop, support and restart it with one foot safely on the ground
- Have a lamp emitting a white light that is visible to 300 feet when riding at night
Regularly check your bike to make sure it meets these (and any other) conditions. Parents should take particular care to check their kids' bikes, as your son or daughter will quickly outgrow his or her first bike.
Thousands of Californians ride their bicycles every day, but it's important to remember that cyclists must observe all relevant laws. Talk to a trained traffic attorney from a firm like Walsh Fewkes Sterba if you need advice about a possible cycling conviction.