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Why and how bicyclists are subject to traffic rules in California

October 13th, 2016 Comments off

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.

Categories: Legal/Legislative, Safety/Education Tags:

CABO trains CHP in LAB Bicycling Street Skills

May 23rd, 2014 699 comments

Previously the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition sponsored one course, and now CABO is providing LAB Traffic Skills 101 training for the CHP; so far three courses and approximately 30 CHP folks have been through the classroom, bike skills, and road riding experiences with more to come.

One of the officers provided these comments for evaulation of the course, “I currently review traffic collision reports for my area, and have since applied my new found knowledge in three separate incidents. I now understand proper lane positioning, bike lane configurations, and other bicycle movements when it come to cyclists trying to achieve their destination goals at/through an intersection.” and
“This course provides the philosophy, logic, and sound reasoning behind bicycle placement/movement, as well as addresses right-of-way issues.”

Marie Schelling of the CHP wrote and was successful at getting funding from OTS to pay the training costs, and she was instrumental to getting several CHP area supervisors to allocate the officers and staff time for the day and a half of training. Cudos to Marie!

I provided the standard League of American Bicyclists Road 1 “Street Skills” material, half classroom and half on the roads and paths nearest the class sites. The participants previous bicycling experiences varied widely, a few had club and event riding experiences, all had ridden as children, but many had not been on a bike – especially not in general traffic – for YEARS or EVER. What an awakening it can be for some/most people to hear, see, and then experience that “roads are for people, not just for people in cars!”

Although at one four-way Stop intersection I learned something. It happened just as a motorist who had the next turn to go – right of way – waited and waved for our group of bicyclists to go ahead even though we’d come to the intersection after her – it was the motorist’s turn to go. You may have experienced this? I call it the “let the poor person on a bike go first” response. Anyway, the inappropriate hesitation causes unnecessary delay, confuses others expectations, and can lead to collisions. Long story short, when the CHP student bicyclist with the gun on her hip waived the motorist on, the motorist was quick to comply! Teachable moment – an authoritative presence can straighten out some situations quickly. (No, I will not start riding armed… yes, even if “open carry” is allowed.)

I see nothing but good coming from helping law enforcement personnel to become competent bicyclists. Next maybe we could get some judges and magistrates to learn too that bikes belong, even “in the way.”

Jim (couldn’t be prouder) Baross
CABO President

CABO Supports Safe Passing Bill, AB 1371

September 2nd, 2013 1 comment

AB 1371 Sept 2013 Governor

The effort to reduce close, fast passing of people on bikes by people in cars that sometimes initiates a crash, often endangers the bicyclists, and too often discourages people from using a bicycle at all in normal traffic is facing a third try with Assembly Bill 1371. CABO is acting to support this latest version despite controversy about its likely effectiveness. On balance we think passage of the bill will be helpful. A more thorough explanation of our reasoning for support will be posted soon. Meanwhile, we encourage those in agreement to communicate to Governor Brown that you request that he sign the bill into law.

Conviction of motorist for assaulting two cyclists in Mandeville Canyon

November 3rd, 2009 Comments off

The LA Times covered the conviction of an ER doctor who assaulted two cyclists in Mandeville Canyon last year in a case of road rage turned deadly:

http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-cyclist3-2009nov03,0,761131.story

The question has been asked by the press and local advocates, “What can we learn from this incident?”

Last year, shortly after the incident occurred, CABO VP, Brian DeSousa and CABO District 7 Director, Dan Gutierrez, made a quick turnaround video answer to this question in order to help local advocates brief Los Angeles City Council members on improved cyclist/motorist relations.

The key is to improve motorist/cyclist cooperation:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dKSVwhLMjBk

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Columnist Disparages Bicycling at Night

December 10th, 2008 2 comments

This article was in the outdoor section of yesterday’s Orange County register.  It’s an article describing how to be safe while running at night – but did the author really have to disparage bicycling at night?  Here’s a video showing it can be done safely:

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