Traffic laws help bikes and cars coexist on roads

Dear Street Smarts, Q: You quoted a Ryan Price [June 16 Street Smarts, "When three feet is not available to safely pass a cyclist"] as saying, "In regard to taking the full travel lane, 'people riding bikes always have a legal right to a full use of the lane, with or without signage — unless a bike lane is present, where bicyclists traveling slower than traffic must use the bike lane except when making a left turn, passing, avoiding hazardous conditions, or approaching a place where a right turn is authorized.'" That is contrary to the California Vehicle Code, which says "Any 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 except under any of the following situations..." Those situations include when passing, when preparing for a left turn, when it's a one-way street (in which case you can also drive on the left side of the lane), when approaching a right turn lane, or when the lane is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane. Vehicle Code section 21202. So you see, people riding bikes do not have a legal right to use the full lane even when there is no bike lane unless the lane is too narrow to allow the bike and car to travel side by side, which is the case on most residential streets and roads, but not all of them. Best Wishes, Steve Premo, via email A: It appears that Price's statement and the section of the vehicle code you attached say the same thing. Here is more on the topic from Officer Brad Sadek, local California Highway Patrol spokesman: "On September 16th of this year, section 21760 of the California Vehicle Code (CVC) goes into effect. This section is known as the “Three Feet for Safety Act,” and requires the driver of a motor vehicle to pass bicyclists with a minimum of three feet between any part of the motor vehicle and the cyclist. With this law comes an obvious problem for Santa Cruz County Drivers. Many of our lanes are too narrow to allow three feet of clearance, and even more challenging are the solid double yellow lines separating the majority of our lanes. So, what do you do on these roadways? First things first, it is illegal and unsafe to pass over double solid yellow lines (section 21460(a) CVC). "So then, do you just have to follow the cyclist? No, if you continue reading section 21760, there is a provision that allows a driver to pass a cyclist with less than the required three-foot clearance," he explained. "In order to pass, the driver must slow his or her vehicle to 'A speed that is reasonable and prudent' and may pass 'Only when doing so would not endanger the operator of the bicycle.'" Violating this law means a fine of $35 plus various court and county fees. "The intent of this new law is to bolster legal protection for cyclists using California Highways," said Sadek. "If you have ever ridden a bicycle on a busy roadway -- with or without a bike lane -- you likely understand just how unnerving it is to hear a side view mirror whiz by your head, or worse, maybe you have had the misfortune of being hit by a vehicle. Right or wrong, in a collision with a motor vehicle, the cyclists tend to come out on the losing end, considering injuries sustained." In regard to the presence of Bikes May Use Full Lane signs, they do "not remove a cyclist legal responsibility to avoid becoming an impediment to other traffic on the roadway," Sadek continued. "If a cyclist is moving at a speed slower than the speed of traffic, they are required to move out of the way to let traffic pass. One section 21656 CVC requires a vehicle -- bicycle included -- to yield and let traffic pass when five or more vehicles are following. Another section 22400(a) CVC makes it unlawful someone to '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.'" To read the full text of any of the vehicle code sections provided above, visit or and type the numbers into the search field.
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