Why and how bicyclists are subject to traffic rules in California

Have you ever wondered why bicyclists are subject to following traffic laws in California? Many people think bicycles are legally vehicles, and that’s why, but that’s actually not the case. This is one of those complicated legalistic issues that all bicyclists in CA should know. So let’s explore the vehicle code to find out more.

Section 231 of the California Vehicle Code explicitly defines bicycles to be devices, not vehicles:

DIVISION 1. WORDS AND PHRASES DEFINED [100 – 681] ( Division 1 enacted by Stats. 1959, Ch. 3. )
231. A bicycle is a device upon which any person may ride, propelled exclusively by human power through a belt, chain, or gears, and having one or more wheels. Persons riding bicycles are subject to the provisions of this code specified in Sections 21200 and 21200.5.

Further, bicycles are explicitly excluded from the definition of a vehicle in Section 670:

DIVISION 1. WORDS AND PHRASES DEFINED [100 – 681] ( Division 1 enacted by Stats. 1959, Ch. 3. )
670. A “vehicle” is a device by which any person or property may be propelled, moved, or drawn upon a highway, excepting a device moved exclusively by human power or used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks.

So bicycles are not vehicles, but bicyclists are subject to certain provision of the vehicle code, and we should find out more in Sections 21200 and 21200.5:

Section 21200.5 just addresses bicycling under the influence (prohibited), but CVC 21200 is much more interesting as it is quite explicit about bicyclist rights and responsibilities:

21200. (a) A person riding a bicycle or operating a pedicab upon a highway has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this division, including, but not limited to, provisions concerning driving under the influence of alcoholic beverages or drugs, and by Division 10 (commencing with Section 20000), Section 27400, Division 16.7 (commencing with Section 39000), Division 17 (commencing with Section 40000.1), and Division 18 (commencing with Section 42000), except those provisions which by their very nature can have no application.

Those bolded words, especially “by this division”, are key.

But before we discuss the bolded portions, we must recognize that a bicyclist is subject to the same provisions as is “the driver of a vehicle”, not “the driver of a motor vehicle”. The distinction may seem trivial but it’s quite significant in considering the applicability of sections like Section 23109 which prohibits people from participating in “a motor vehicle speed contest on a highway”. Now, is a bicycle race a “motor vehicle speed contest”? Of course not. Since no motors are involved, Section 23109 cannot apply to bicyclists.

To fully understand Section 21200 we have to know that that vehicle code is divided into named and numbered ”divisions”. Section 21200 is in Division 11 of the vehicle code, so “by this division” refers to “Division 11 of the vehicle code”. The title of Division 11 is “Rules of the Road”, so it makes sense that those sections should apply to bicyclists, and it covers CVC 21000 through 23336. But this also means that provisions outside of Division 11 – sections which are not part of the “Rules of the Road”, not within the range 21000-23336, do not apply to bicyclists (except for a few relatively insignificant sections outside of Division 11 we will discuss below).

In other words, sections dealing with vehicle equipment, like CVC 25250 (“Flashing lights are prohibited on vehicles “) do not apply to bicyclists, because they are in Division 12 (titled “Equipment of Vehicles”), not in Division 11.

Now, regarding that longer clause in Section 21200, “… and by Division 10 (commencing with Section 20000), Section 27400, Division 16.7 (commencing with Section 39000), Division 17 (commencing with Section 40000.1), and Division 18 (commencing with Section 42000),”:

  1. Division 10 is very short and deals with accidents and requirements for filing accident reports.
  2. Section 27400 (the only section in Division 12 which applies to bicyclists) addresses headsets and earplugs.
  3. Division 16.7 is about bicycle registration and licensing. Mostly arcane and inapplicable in most local jurisdictions.
  4. Divisions 17 and 18 define general vehicle code legal process (“Offenses and Prosecution” and “Penalties and Disposition of Fees, …”)

Finally, let’s look at that final clause in Section 21200: “except those provisions which by their very nature can have no application”. This clause limits the bolded portions even further in terms of how they apply to bicyclists. It cannot expand the scope of what vehicle code sections apply to bicyclists, but it does reduce the scope. For example, consider Section 22400 which is in Division 11:

22400. (a) No person shall drive upon a highway at such a slow speed as to impede or block the normal and reasonable movement of traffic unless the reduced speed is necessary for safe operation, because of a grade, or in compliance with law.
No person shall bring a vehicle to a complete stop upon a highway so as to impede or block the normal and reasonable movement of traffic unless the stop is necessary for safe operation or in compliance with law.

This law clearly prohibits driving too slowly (“No person shall drive … at such a slow speed as to impede…”), but can anyone be found in violation for operating too slowly when he or she is operating about as fast as physically possible? How can one be required to comply with a law when it’s impossible to do so? The law cannot require one to travel at a faster speed than is feasibly possible; therefore, Section 22400 can have no application to bicyclists by its “very nature”.

In summary, in California, bicycles are devices, not vehicles, but bicyclists have the same rights as drivers of vehicles and must obey basically the same Rules of the Road (Division 11) as drivers of vehicles. In future articles we will look further into these “Rules of the Road” in Division 11, and closely examine those sections that are specific to bicyclists.

Report Motorist Harassment and Bad Behavior!

Safety tip of the week – REPORT aggressive motorists!
REPORT aggressive motorists! If a motorist threatens you with their deadly weapon – their vehicle – get their plate and go to the appropriate police or sheriff department and INSIST that a report is FILED. Attorney Seth Davidson explains why this is so crucial in his piece, Don’t take it lying down:

Don’t take it lying down

And a follow-up piece, The people police:

The people police

One report alone probably won’t accomplish much. Tragically, police really have to be pushed to pursue these cases. But once they have more than one report on the same driver, and aggressive drivers are likely to be repeat offenders, that’s a pattern, and even reluctant police may be spurred into action. So don’t take it lying down, get that report filed!

Feel free to copy/paste/edit and use this information any way you wish with your clubs.
You can write your own report and insist they file it. The key is to have this report pop up when somebody else files a report on the same license or car description, or the police look it up because of an actual crash. Without that history on file it’s likely to just look like a one-time incident or “accident”. We have to build up records on these sociopaths!

CABO General Membership Meeting

CABO’s annual General Membership and Board meeting is held every year on Saturday in Paso Robles, CA during the Great Western Bicycle Rally beginning at 1 PM. All CABO members and member organization representatives are invited to attend in person or to participate via teleconference.
For more information or to request teleconference access, contact me, CABO President Jim Baross, via Facebook PM, or via email to cabobike@cabobike.org.

Calif. Bike & Ped Plan development – Open Forums

Caltrans is conducting Regional Forums across the state with stakeholders to support the development of the first California State Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan. The web site on this page http://www.cabikepedplan.org/rsvp-stakeholders has details.

Redding, Monday, April 18, 12:30
Oakland, Tuesday, April 19, 12:30
Fresno, April 22, 12:30
Riverside, May 2, 12:30
San Diego, May 3, 12:30
San Luis Obispo, May 5, 4:00
Los Angeles, May 10, 3:30
Folsom, May 11, ??

It’s probably a good idea to pack the halls. Tell a friend. Sign up!

Jim (sadly cannot attend any of these) Baross
CABO President
Bicycling Instructor/Advocate

Modifying CVC 21202?

California Assemblymember Ting has introduced a bill, AB 2509, to clarify the Calif. Vehicle Code 21202 that too often gets described as the “ride as far to the right as possible” rule or “get out of the way” by some motorists and police officers. CABO is supporting Assemblymember Ting’s effort but also recommending two things.

Why not just deleted 21202 – it’s useless and dangerous, or consider our recommendations for the wording of a modified 21202.

Here’s what we recommended:
(a) A person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway.
(b) Subdivision (a) does not apply to a person operating a bicycle in any of the following situations:
(1) When overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction.
(2) When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.
(3) When traveling in a lane that is too narrow for a vehicle to safely pass the bicycle within the lane with at least three feet of clearance.
(4) When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge, subject to Section 21656, including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, and surface hazards.
(5) When approaching a place where a right turn is authorized.
(6) When riding within a bicycle lane established pursuant to Section 21207.
(7) When riding within a travel lane where an official traffic control device indicates that the lane is a shared lane or that bicycles may use the full lane. (8) When bicycling two or more abreast in any situation described in sections (1) to (7), inclusive.
(c) A person operating a bicycle upon a roadway that carries traffic in one direction only and has two or more marked traffic lanes may ride as close to the left-hand curb or edge of that roadway as practicable.

Just say NO to detour!

Caltrans District 5 asked for comments from bicyclists about their proposal to detour bicycling for TWO YEARS during their US 101 North Paso Rehab Project. Our response is below.

Project Manager Amy Donatello:

I am the President of the California Association of Bicycling Organizations writing to express our surprise and dismay that Caltrans would be considering closing bicycling access ​- for two years! – ​along 101 as described​ for the US 101 North Paso Rehab Project​. It is our understanding, and should be yours, that Caltrans does not have the authority to detour bicyclists while allowing motorized traffic through the work zone. Caltrans ​is supposed to follow ​D​eputy Directive 64 R-2. ​Caltrans is supposed to consider the needs of bicyclists early in the project development process.​ ​Bicycle users and the general public should have been consulted before the traffic management plan was developed, not at this very late stage in the project development process. A staged construction strategy that ignores the rights of people bicycling should not have been approved. Please act within the law, follow Caltrans policy, and provide space for bicyclists on 101 during the project.

Additionally, it is obvious to us that the roads shown on the map (though you didn’t specify a detour route) entail significant out of direction travel, which violates the guidance in PDPM Chapter 31. ​The only alternative routes we see provide ​steep grades, narrow or no shoulders & greatly increased distances. Some destinations are only available via 101.

Caltrans staff should not exceed its legal authority. There may be other options to a paved shoulder in some areas, such as providing a 24/7 shuttle service to get bicyclists past these segments, or providing a 16′ wide lane with “share the road” signs, or installing “bikes may use full lane” signs and erecting temporary 40 mph (or lower) speed limit signs on short segments, such as approaches to/on bridges where it could be more difficult (but not impossible) to provide more width for bicycle traffic. All of these options should have been explored during the development of the traffic management plan.

Some of our members have provided some addition comments.

1) Note that the project is in error. There is no access from the east side of the Salinas River (River Road) to the west side via Wellsona Rd. So cutting bicycle access to Hi​gh​way 101 effectively restricts access to the area south of San Miguel to Wellsona in the Salina River Basin. This includes the lower portion of San Marcos Rd. The Indian Valley—River Rd detour totally bypasses this area. The bike detour must provide access between San Miguel to Wellsona. A possibility would be to provide 2-way access on Cemetery Road west of Hi​gh​way 101 and create an extension (perhaps a 2-way class I bike facility) from the end of Cemetery Rd to San Marcos Rd and then detouring on San Marcos Road to Wellsona Rd.

2) On the north end, using Indian Valley Road as the detour between Bradley and San Miguel adds additional mileage and significant grades. Far better would be access though Camp Roberts. ​There may be an almost complete bypass through Camp Roberts, but there are short segments on the Google map shown as unimproved. Also, there appears to be short segment between the south end of Camp Roberts and San Miguel where the only access is Hi​gh​way 101 (the frontage road on the other side appears to be one-way). If access is granted and made continuous through Camp Roberts and a 2-way connection is enabled between Camp Roberts and San Miguel, then that ​might fix the north end problem.

3) Why not build one-half of the highway on a new adjacent alignment, rebuild/rehab one of the older alignments and turn the remaining old alignment portion into an paralleling frontage road that would serve the area’s residents and become a nice paralleling bike route. This roadway was built in the early 1960’s by Madonna Construction and as such has outlived its usefulness. Building a new alignment probably would not cost much more than tearing out and replacing miles of old degraded concrete roadway.

4) The national bicycle touring organization, Adventure Cycling, publishes route maps for bicycling tourists that includes the proposed section to be closed. Disrupting this route will inconvenience and perhaps discourage bicycle tourism through our State. ​If you go forward with this closure they should be notified to alert their member travelers.​

Jim Baross
CABO President

Time to $upport CABO

Yes, CABO is an all-volunteer run organization, but we do have operating and legislative monitoring costs. Your contributions are necessary for continuing our mission to encourage, protect, and improve cycling in California. CABO exists to serve you the community of cyclists – bike clubs and their members, commuters, cycle-tourists, mountain bikers, utility cyclists, pedicab drivers, racers, and all individual cyclists.

Annual Memberships are now based on the Calendar Year – January to December. Midyear memberships made by October are credited to and through the following year. It is time now for all to put some money where your interests are paramount; CABO. Presently there are 73 clubs, organizations, and individuals contributing to CABO; how about you?

Organization Member Annual Dues (voting memberships)
•$50 for fewer than 250 members
•$100 for 251 to 500 members
•$150 for 501 to 1000 members
•$200 for greater than 1000 members

Supporting Associates Annual Dues (non-voting)
•$25 – Supporting Individuals
•$50 – Supporting Businesses

Additional contributions are cheerfully accepted! CABO is a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation to which your donations, including membership dues, may be tax deductible; check with your tax professional.

Please fill out a membership form, available here under Membership, and mail to:

CABO Treasurer
c/o Alan Forkosh
33 Moss Ave #204
Oakland, CA 94610

Alternatively, you may quickly and easily donate via PayPal using the DONATE button at cabobike.org/membership.

Thank you and here’s my wish for you to have a great bicycling year 2016!

Jim Baross
CABO President

Look who’s onboard now!

CBC is now including “Protecting the Right to Ride” as a strategy. Good for them! Here’s their new statement on the subject; though still calling Cycletracks/Class IVs as “Protected Bike Lanes.”

The California Bicycle Coalition seeks to enable more people to bicycle in California, for healthier, safer, and more prosperous communities for all. Our goal is to enable triple the number of bicycle trips by 2020, and we use four strategies to get there. Strategy #3 is to ensure that Californians respect the rights to the road of people on bicycles and that the laws, regulations, and legal system promote bicycling and protect those who choose to ride. The surest way to increase that respect is to increase the number of people who bike, but the rules and regulations about bikeways and roadway use are also important. Those regulations are especially important on roads with adjacent separated bikeways, sometimes called cycle tracks or protected bike lanes.

While we hope that cycle tracks class are so well designed that everybody will choose to use them in place of the mixed traffic lanes because they’re superior, we also hope that even well-designed separated bikeways overflow with cyclists into the roadway. This is one reason why it’s important that cyclists continue to enjoy the rights to the road adjacent to a protected bike lane, as is the case thanks to the Protected Bikeways Act that we sponsored.
Most planners and officials consider cycle tracks to be a kind of bike lane and part of the roadway. If the Protected Bikeways Act had not designated them as a new type of bikeway, a “class 4 cycle track”, separate from the roadway, current laws about bike lane use and roadway positioning would have compelled their use. The California Bicycle Coalition will never support mandatory use of cycle tracks, and supports repeal of the unnecessary requirements to use a bike lane and to ride “as far to the right as practicable.”

It’s important to note that the rules sponsored by the California Bicycle Coalition protect cyclists’ rights to the roadway regardless of what they are popularly called. For that reason, we refer to them as protected bike lanes because studies show that’s the easiest way to describe them to the public. Police officers will sometimes write tickets for behaviors that are not against the law, like riding outside of a cycle track, or riding side-by-side or not riding in the gutter. Changing that requires education of the cops and getting many more people on bikes so that more officers and their family members are regular riders, bringing us back to our goal: attracting twice as many “non cyclists” to cycling as those who currently cycle.

Deb Hubsmith gone but not forgotten.

We have, the USA has lost a vibrant advocate. About Deb Hubsmith, http://saferoutespartnership.org/about/debhubsmith

“It is with a heavy heart today that the Safe Routes to School National Partnership mourns the passing of its founder, Deb Hubsmith. We will remember Deb always and celebrate the legacy of her life as the bold, visionary leader of the Safe Routes to School movement.” http://bit.ly/1foWsCZ.

CABO now supports AB 208

As I suspected newly amended AB 208 that CABO helped modify is subject to being mischaracterized as a change adding a restriction detrimental to people bicycling when it isn’t.

Here’s what a recent LA Times article stated, “The Senate voted Thursday to approve a bill requiring bicyclists on two-lane highways to pull over and let vehicles pass if five or more vehicles are backed up behind them. Assemblyman Frank Bigelow (R-O’Neals) introduced AB 208.”
Here’s the article,

You may be called upon to explain this, so …. Here’s more than you may want to know about what happened with this bill and why.

CABO successfully influenced changes to the originally proposed legislation, AB 208 (amendment to vehicle lane use law), that would have been to detrimental to bicyclists in California. Although the bill now does not significantly change the existing vehicle code sections, due to CABO’s effort it continues to protect bicyclist’s right to the road while achieving the bill’s author, Assemblyman Frank Bigelow’s objectives.

Here’s the bill, AB 208, as of July 9. It is still to be reheard in the Assembly after passing the Senate as modified.

Section 21656 of the Vehicle Code is amended to read:
On a two-lane highway where passing is unsafe because of traffic in the opposite direction or other conditions, any vehicle proceeding upon the highway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time, behind which five or more vehicles are formed in line, shall turn off the roadway at the nearest place designated as a turnout by signs erected by the authority having jurisdiction over the highway, or wherever sufficient area for a safe turnout exists, in order to permit the vehicles following it to proceed.

The following explanation is from the Legislative Analysts introduction about the bill –

The amended Bill requires: on a 2-lane highway where passing is unsafe due to specified reasons, any vehicle proceeding upon the highway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time, behind which 5 or more vehicles are formed in line, to turn off the roadway at the nearest place designated as a turnout or wherever sufficient area for a safe turnout exists.

The back-story – we intervened to help Assemblymember Bigelow respond to his constituents complaints about being delayed behind bicyclists – narrow lanes, no shoulder, double-yellow centerline they feel that they cannot cross, 3′ minimum passing law – that had them upset. According to Bigelow’s staff, as originally introduced “AB 208 is current just a spot bill but we intend to use it to strengthen the relationship between bikers and cars.” But, their bill as initially introduced as a modification of the 3′ minimum passing law, would have required any bicyclists to pull off out of the way on multi-lane roadways, an expansion of the CVC 21656 requirement that is limited to two-lane roads (roads with one lane in each direction).

Here’s an explanation provided by CABO Government Relations Chair, Alan Wachtel about why the original AB 208 was a problem .

“AB 208 largely duplicates existing §21656, with the following differences:”

“§21656 applies “where passing is unsafe because of traffic in the opposite direction or other conditions.” This is already somewhat subjective for the driver being followed, though it’s clear enough in the most likely case where passing is prohibited by striping or signs. AB 208 replaces it with “If the driver of a motor vehicle is unable to comply with subdivision (d)” [i.e., passing only at a reasonable, prudent, and safe speed when traffic or roadway conditions prevent leaving a three-foot clearance]. How is a bicyclist to know whether a following driver is unable to comply? All that can be observed is whether the driver passes or not.”

“§21656 applies “On a two-lane highway.” AB 208 has no such limitation.”

“§21656 applies to “a slow-moving vehicle,” defined as “one which is proceeding at a rate of speed less than the normal flow of traffic at the particular time and place.” AB 208 applies to any “operator of a bicycle.”

“In §21656, if a turnout is designated, it must be by “signs erected by the authority having jurisdiction over the highway.” AB 208 does not specify how the turnout must be designated. Existing law does, however, already contain the highly subjective “wherever sufficient area for a safe turnout exists.”

“These differences create the potential for discrimination against bicycle transportation on multilane urban streets. Interestingly, however, AB 208 contains a get-out-of-jail-free card: “Section 40000.1 does not apply to a violation of this subdivision.” That section reads: “Except as otherwise provided in this article, it is unlawful and constitutes an infraction for any person to violate, or fail to comply with any provision of this code . . . ” So it wouldn’t be a violation to fail to comply! I’ve never seen anything like that before.”

“But of course this is all unnecessary, because §21656 already covers the five-in-a-row situation. Furthermore, the exceptions in §21202 for conditions “that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge” are expressly “subject to the provisions of Section 21656.” So there should be no doubt that that section applies to bicyclists.”

“So really nothing at all needs to be done, but the author, Frank Bigelow of Placerville, is trying to respond to the wishes of his constituents. I don’t see that it would do any harm to instead expand §21656 by adding “or bicycle” to the two occurrences of “slow-moving vehicle” (except to the extent that it always muddies the waters to call out bicycles explicitly in some places but not others).”

CABO opposed AB 208 as introduced. A modification to the bill was then made that instead made unacceptable changes to 21656, among which would have required bicyclists to pull off of the “highway” rather than the “roadway” – a significant difference that we opposed. In case you weren’t aware, Roadway is technically the traveled way but Highway refers to the full right of way including any space even beyond a sidewalk, shoulder, etc.

We got “highway” changed back to “roadway” and we (thanks to Serge Issakov) proposed better wording for CVC 21656 that was accepted to describe a slow moving vehicle. The change – ” any vehicle proceeding upon the highway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time, …”

The result; no harm to bicyclists since we already were subject to the provisions of CVC 21656 – see CVC 21200. The Assemblymember can show his constituents that he did something, changing CVC 21656. And, CABO may, with increased attention to the issues, be better able to get changes as we plan to do next year, as Alan W. stated, “The long-term solution is to modify the law regarding crossing double yellow lines. I’d bet Bigelow’s constituents would like that, too. But it would require careful negotiation with CHP and Caltrans to avoid a veto, and it wouldn’t be a quick win for Bigelow.”

Unfortunately there is still plenty of room for misunderstanding and mis-behavior for how people bicycling and motoring are to share limited spaces in various circumstances – When is a “lane too narrow to share”? What is the “normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time” when most of the traffic at that time is a group of people bicycling? What is “sufficient area for a safe turnout”? etc.

CABO recommends that courtesy prevails; that people wishing to travel faster than others be patient and only pass safely, and that people traveling slower – including bicyclists – should courteously allow faster traffic to get by when they can do so safely without undue delay.