Bike season is in full gear in Truckee-Tahoe and here at Porter Simon we have been riding to work, competing in local races (see Truckee Dirt Fondo, Tour de Manure and Lost and Found Gravel Grinder) and generally logging time in the saddle on the area’s endless miles of single track, double track, roadways, streets and bike paths. Arguably, there is no better way to experience the Sierra Nevada in the summer, but bicycling does not come without risk. Given recent incidents of serious injury and death to bicyclists in traffic accidents with motor vehicles, now is a good time to remind drivers and cyclists alike to be safe and to share the road.
In California, any person riding a bicycle on a highway, street or Class I bikeway has the same rights and responsibilities as a person driving a motor vehicle. (Vehicle Code section 21200.) Drivers must be vigilant to afford cyclists their roadway rights in order to avoid unsafe conditions and collision. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, on its webpage dedicated to Bicycle Safety, makes the following recommendations for drivers encountering cyclists on the roadway:
- Yield to bicyclists as you would motorists and do not underestimate their speed. This will help avoid turning in front of a bicyclist traveling on the road or sidewalk, often at an intersection or driveway.
- In parking lots, at stop signs, when backing up, or when parking, check your surroundings for other vehicles, including bicycles.
- Drivers turning right on red should look to the right and behind to avoid hitting an oncoming bicyclist. Stop completely and look left-right-left and behind before turning right on red.
- Obey the speed limit, reduce speed for road conditions and drive defensively to avoid a crash with a cyclist.
- Give cyclists room. Do not pass too closely. Pass bicyclists as you would any other vehicle—when it’s safe to move over into an adjacent lane.
The final recommendation is more than a safe practice in California – it’s the law. A driver of a motor vehicle passing a bicyclist proceeding in the same direction of travel, must leave three feet of space between the bicycle and the vehicle unless conditions do not permit, in which case the driver of the vehicle must slow to a reasonable and prudent speed so as not to endanger the safety of the bicyclist. (Vehicle Code section 21760.)
Driver adherence to the laws and safe practices of sharing roadways with cyclists will go a long way toward reducing motor vehicle vs. bicycle accidents, but not without the significant cooperation of the cycling community. As a guide for cyclists, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, on its Bicycle Safety webpage, sets forth the Rules of the Road for Riding Safely:
- Ride in a straight line, single file.
- Go with the traffic flow. Ride on the right in the same direction as cars.
- Obey all traffic signs and signals.
- Ride with both hands on the handlebars except when signaling a turn or stop.
- Stop and look left-right-left for traffic before entering a street.
- Walk your bike across an intersection.
- Stay alert – look for things that could make you fall, like potholes, cracks, pebbles, or wet leaves.
- Listen for traffic. Don’t wear earphones while riding.
- Watch for parked cars and cars pulling out or into parking spaces or driveways.
- Check your equipment. Make sure your bike tires are properly inflated and that the brakes work.
- Wear a helmet.
In California, just as with the driver safety recommendations above, some of the Rules of the Road are the law. For instance, cyclists must stay as close to the right-hand curb or edge of the road as possible, except when passing another bicycle or vehicle, making a left-hand turn at an intersection, or when engaged in other maneuvers listed in Vehicle Code section 21202. When on a highway, street or bikeway, cyclists are prohibited from wearing earbuds in both ears. Vehicle Code section 27400. Though California law requires only that persons under the age of 18 must wear a helmet (Vehicle Code section 21212), all persons riding a bicycle at any time should wear a properly fitted and secured helmet to reduce the likelihood of serious injury or death in a collision or fall. Finally, cyclists must strive to stay visible to vehicles at all times, especially in low light conditions or those where sunlight obscures visibility, and must use forward and rear lights and reflectors after dark. (Vehicle Code section 21201.) Of the 783 bicyclist fatalities that occurred in 2017 in the U.S., most occurred between 6:00 pm and 9:00 pm. (NHTSA, Bike Safety.)
With the increased number of residents and visitors in Truckee-Tahoe taking to the roadways for commuting, recreating, and travel this summer, please be mindful of the laws and safe practices outlined above and remember that drivers and cyclists share the responsibility to make the roadways safe. If you or someone you know has been involved in a bicycle / motor vehicle accident resulting in injury or death, feel free to call our office for a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney. Remember the law allows the recovery of monetary damages for the intangible effects of an injury — not just for medical expenses.
The content contained and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author. This blog contains content and opinions concerning the law generally, and is not intended to constitute legal advice or to create any attorney‑client relationship with the reader. The reader should consult with an attorney about any specific legal issues prior to embarking on any course of action or inaction involving legal matters. The author makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the contents of this blog and expressly disclaims liability for any errors and omissions.