If you love riding a bicycle, you must familiarize yourself with the bicycle rules or laws of the state. California is a fault state, meaning if you become injured in an accident as a cyclist, the compensation law expects a determination of fault to receive damages. If you violated the bicycle laws on personal injury and got involved in an accident, you are likely to receive less or no compensation for your damages. Get in touch with the San Diego Personal Injury Law Firm to review your case and represent you if you are involved in a bicycle accident.

Bicycle Laws in California

Many California laws help regulate the safe riding of bicycles and general road safety for all road users. Some rules in vehicle code apply to bicyclists, while others are solely for the riders. Below, we will discuss the various bicycle laws that bicyclists must adhere to, and if not followed, they can affect their claim. These laws are:

VEH 21200

Although this is typically a vehicle law, bikers in California have the same responsibilities and rights as motorists. According to this law, bikers owe other road users a duty of care, just like motorists do. Further, like motorists are prohibited from impaired driving, bicyclists must not use the roads while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

This means bicyclists do not have the luxury to pick which laws to obey and disobey. Some undisciplined bicyclists dart in and out of lanes, run red lights or ride across intersections without regard to traffic laws. Additionally, some cyclists fail to stop, give way to emergency cars, or issue signals when making a left turn.

These kinds of behaviors amount to recklessness or negligence on the roads and can result in an accident. If you are involved in an accident where the other party claims you were liable for it or partially responsible, your behavior on the road is considered. If established that you engaged in the unacceptable behaviors, the verdict will be that you were partly responsible for the accident, and in some cases, solely responsible. In this case, you will lose part of your compensation or be ordered to pay the other party for damages. 

Bike Lane Laws

Where bike lanes are available, it is a traffic offense not to use them and ride on the vehicle lanes. Using bike lanes enhances your safety as a bike because it minimizes the likelihood of an accident. If you opt to leave a bike line, you must always signal your intentions to other bicyclists to avoid a collision. The signaling is also critical to other motorists to give you the way and avoid preventable accidents.

Just like in other laws, violation of this law can result in the loss of your damages. If a vehicle moves to the bicycle lane and hits you, the motorist will be held responsible for the crash. If you fail to use the lane when it is available and a vehicle hits you, you will be held partially accountable for the crash.

Riding Along with the Traffic Flow

It is a traffic offense to ride against the flow of traffic. Additionally, as a cyclist, you are expected to be on the extreme right, keeping watch of parked vehicles along the curb. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule. Suppose you want to make a left turn, avoid objects on your path, or overtake another cyclist or motorist. If there is a bike lane, according to VEH 21208(a), you must use it.

Additionally, you are prohibited from parking in a bike lane or stopping unless you come across a sign to stop or a traffic light. If you park or stop where you are not supposed to, and another cyclist hits you, you will be held partially responsible for the damages that you will both incur.

Three Feet Safety Act

VEH 21760(a) became enacted to give three feet clearance when overtaking. If a driver fails to obey this rule and hits you, they will be held liable for all your damages.

Bicycle Helmet Laws

The laws of California prohibit persons below 18 years from riding their bike without a helmet. Helmet laws in California are outlined under VEH 21212. If a bicyclist is below 18, the parents are held responsible for ensuring they have their helmets on. In case a minor is involved in an accident, and they were not wearing a helmet, the responsible party can argue that they were partially responsible for the injuries they sustained. The argument is typical that the rider would have sustained fewer injuries if they had their helmet on.

According to this statute, the helmet must further meet the American Society for Testing and Materials standards (ASTM). The rules on helmets also apply to bicycle passengers on the restraining seat. If you are riding with a minor, even when you do not have a helmet on, you must ensure that they have one.

Another rule to having helmets on is their labeling. According to the ASTM, the manufacturer must clearly label the helmet showing that it has complied with the regulations on safety standards.

Helmet laws do not, however, apply to persons over 18. The practice is recommended because it enhances safety; as an adult, the decision to wear a helmet yours. However, if you opt for one, you must make sure it meets the compliance standards to offer you the needed protection.

Don't Cover Both Ears

As you ride your bicycle, you need to hear oncoming vehicles and horns on the road. Most cyclists like wearing their earphones on both ears. This means they will not hear any activities around them and can easily be in accidents. VEH 27400 prohibits bicyclists from covering their ears with anything that hinders them from hearing their surroundings. If you are in an accident and both your ears are covered, you can be partially blamed for the injuries you sustain and lose some of your benefits.

No Hitching a Ride

Some bicyclists engage in reckless behavior that is dangerous to their lives. According to VEH 21203, a cyclist is prohibited from attaching themselves on a moving streetcar or vehicle, hitching a ride from them. In the unfortunate event that the car has to make an emergency stop, the cyclist sustains significant injuries primarily attributed to their careless behavior. In this case, an accident is blamed on you, or you are found partially responsible for your damages.

Bicycle Equipment and Size

Besides helmet requirements, riders must make sure their bicycles meet specific standards as outlined in the law. Some of these requirements are:

  • You cannot ride your bicycle on the road unless its brake system enables you to make a single-wheeled skid on a dry-level clean pavement. This measure is the standard legal requirement for an effective braking system in bicycles.
  • The handlebars' elevation must never be positioned at a place where cyclists place their hands over their shoulders to control it. This rule is explained in detail under VEH 21201(b).
  • Never ride a much larger bicycle such that it is impossible to stop safely, keep it in an upright state with a single foot touching the ground, and safely start it again.

The law also puts requirements on bicyclists that ride at night. Before you ride in the dark, you must make sure:

  • Your bicycle is fitted with a light to illuminate the road ahead at a distance of at least 300 feet. The light should also be strong enough to illuminate your sides too. If the light is not fitted on the bike, you can wear it on your head as a headgear.
  • The back of the back must have either red lights or red reflectors or flashing lights that can be seen at least 500 feet from the bike's back.
  • The laws on safe bicycle riding in California also state that a bicycle or the cyclist's shoes are fitted with a yellow or white reflector. This reflector's visibility is also crucial to your safety on the road and must be visible at least 200 feet from either side of the bike.
  • Another yellow or white reflector light must be fitted at the sides, center, and front of the bike. At the back, you must provide your bike with a red or white reflector for visibility as well.

Visibility is critical in avoiding bicycle accidents. Even as you ensure your bike is fitted with reflectors, you must also ensure that they meet the required standards under the law. If you fail to follow these regulations, and an accident occurs, a motorist can argue that they never saw you because you were invisible. If evidence is produced to this effect, you may be held accountable for the damages sustained following the accident.

Stopping at Crosswalks according to VEH 21950 and 21963

Just like motorists, bicyclists owe pedestrians a duty of care. This means that when they come to a crosswalk, whether marked or not, they must respect pedestrians' right of way. Similarly, blind people must also be accorded right of way by cyclists, according to VEH 21950 and 21963.

Cyclist Rights and Responsibilities in California

According to the law, bicyclists and motorists have responsibilities on the road and rights similar to each other. This means the rules on traffic signs, signals, and duty of care apply to both bicyclists and motorists. One of the rule laws is that both cyclists and motorists do not operate their bikes or vehicles while intoxicated by alcohol or drugs.

Additionally, if you are riding your bicycle at a slower speed than the standard traffic flow, you must keep to your extreme right unless you are:

  • Passing or overtaking another cyclist or motorist
  • You want to take a left turn
  • The road conditions are not favorable for you to ride on the extreme right
  • You are at a location where you cannot make a right turn according to the rules
  • You are on a one-way street where there are no lanes. In such a case, you can ride to your extreme left as much as it is possible.

If riding on the bicycle lanes, the same rules as above apply.

Riding on a Designated Seat

As a cyclist in California, you must only ride on a designated bike seat. Passengers on a bicycle are also expected to adhere to this. But, if the bike is designed with two seats, two people can be on the same cycle. However, most bikes are made with a single seat for the rider. The law prohibits a cyclist or their passenger from sitting on the handlebars or standing on the pegs.

Impact of Bicycle Laws on Personal Injury Claims

Rules and laws are made for a reason. In bicycles, rules are made to enhance safety on the roads and reduce the impact or injuries one would sustain if an accident occurs. When laws are not followed, they directly impact your claim if an accident occurs.

California adheres to two theories of compensation; the comparative negligence and at-fault theories. Under both approaches, proof of liability is expected for a cyclist to receive damages following an accident.

If you are involved in an accident as a bicyclist, you are likely to sustain more substantial injuries than the motorist involved. Bicycles have no protective bodies for their riders like vehicles have for their occupants. When an accident involving you and a motorist occurs, its impact is felt directly to your body, and the injuries can be catastrophic.

Following an injury in a bicycle accident, you can seek damages that you incurred following the accident. Under the at-fault theory, you must prove that the motorist was entirely to blame for your accident and injuries. If indeed you have this evidence and it is irrefutable, the motorist or their insurance provider will compensate you for all the damages you sustained.

However, if you cannot prove the motorist was entirely responsible for your accident, it may be challenging to receive your expected damages. Bicyclists wrongly assume that the fault is always with the vehicle driver when they are involved in an accident with a motorist. This is a wrong assumption because, just as traffic laws bound drivers, the same rules apply to bicyclists.

If an accident occurs, you may receive blame for it. The responsibility can be partial or full, depending on the circumstances of the crash. After an accident, you may engage your attorney to pursue damages on your behalf. However, earning damages is not always straight forward. The other party involved in the accident can claim you were partially responsible for the accident, and therefore damages must be shared.

This type of claim often results in a court hearing where the jury must determine fault. During the hearing, your lawyer and the other party's attorney present their arguments and evidence. During the hearing, the police report detailing the accident, and the probable cause is entered into evidence. If the other party presents evidence that you violated the laws earlier discussed, the conclusion that you contributed to the accident is made.

Following traffic laws is critical for bicyclists to receive damages. If, for instance, you hitched a ride on a vehicle by attaching yourself to it on the highway, an emergency stop can result in significant injuries to you. First, hitching a ride is against traffic laws. In this case, the driver can claim you are responsible for your damages because you violated the law. Another example would be if you failed to stop at a traffic stop sign or an intersection. Traffic lights are there to control traffic and make movement easier. At an intersection, many accidents occur when a road user fails to obey the traffic lights.

In this case, if you rode through an intersection and an accident occurred out of your reckless behavior, you will be found partially responsible for the accident. Equally, if you knock down a pedestrian on a crosswalk, you will be found liable for the injuries and asked to pay the pedestrian damages.

Therefore, based on this, it is safe to conclude that your behavior on the road contributes significantly to your receiving damages or paying for them. Equally, your violation of traffic rules that affect cyclists can also affect the damages you receive following an accident.

Common Injuries in Bicycle Accidents

A bicycle accident can result in many different types of injuries. Fortunately, under the compensation laws, you can claim compensation for the costs you incur as a result of them. Some of the common injuries bicyclists sustain in an accident are:

  • Broken bones
  • Road rash or abrasions
  • Dental fractures
  • Traumatic head injuries
  • Neck and back injuries
  • Eye injuries
  • Concussions
  • Dislocations or strains
  • Internal bleeding

If you suffer any of these injuries, the costs associated with their treatment are compensable.

Besides these injuries, a forceful bicycle accident can result in death. If you or a loved one is killed in a bicycle accident, the party responsible must compensate the surviving family for lost lives. Additionally, the cost of funeral and burial arrangements is compensable in California.

Compensable Damages Following a Bicycle Accident

As earlier stated, when you are involved in a bicycle accident, you can seek damages for the losses you incur due to it and the injuries sustained. In California, victims of bicycle accidents can seek both economic and non-economic damages.

Economic damages are quantifiable or have a monetary value. This means evidentiary documents are required for you to receive them. These documents may include an invoice from your bicycle repair shop, bills from the hospital, and any other damage. The losses you can claim following a bicycle accident include:

  • Medical costs – Injuries sustained following a bicycle accident are often significant, requiring immediate medical care. Under this cost, the hospital and doctor's fees are compensable. Medical procedures, cost of medication, and medical equipment needed to assist in your recovery are also compensable. Additionally, if the doctor's report indicates that you will need extended medical care and treatment, your future medical costs are also compensable.
  • Lost wages – As you recover from your injuries, you might miss work, depending on how significant the injuries are. Most employers will not pay you for missed days of work. As a result, the law allows you to earn compensation for the wages you lose because of the accident.
  • Property damage – Your bicycle is likely to be damaged following the accident. The cost of its repair or replacement is compensable according to the compensation laws of California.
  • Lost earning capacity – When you sustain catastrophic injuries, it may hinder your ability to make a living. If you will never work to earn a living due to the injuries, a calculation of the loss is done, and you become compensated for it.

Besides the economic damages, as a victim of a bicycle accident, you will suffer other damages referred to as non-economic. These damages have no monetary value but are majorly dependent on the economic damages you receive and the extent of your injuries. These damages include:

  • Pain and suffering – As you recover from your injuries, the pain you endure, and the suffering are compensable. The amount is typically awarded, depending on the injuries sustained.
  • Wrongful death – If you die or a loved one is killed in a bicycle accident, the surviving family is compensated for the lost life.
  • Disfigurement – A bicycle accident can result in the loss of a limb or other forms of disfigurement. The value of a lost limb is not quantifiable but is compensable under the law.

Find a Bicycle Accident Lawyer Near Me

An accident is sudden and brings devastating consequences. As a cyclist, you are likely to sustain more damages than a motorist involved in an accident with you. Because of the comparative negligence theory, a motorist can easily blame you for the accident, especially if they cite a violation of traffic rules. Our attorneys at the San Diego Personal Injury Law Firm can challenge these allegations so that you can receive fair compensation. Contact us at 619-478-4059.