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Bicycle law in all U.S. states is determined by the law in each state. In California, the California Vehicle Code is the set of traffic laws that governs the behavior of vehicle drivers in the state. CVC 21200 establishes that a bicyclist "has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this division" ("this division" is Division 11, the "Rules of the Road"), but there are some sections of the code that address bicyclists specifically.
This article identifies and describes the sections of the California vehicle code that are especially relevant to bicyclists, explaining the relevancy as appropriate.
- 1 Bicycle-relevant divisions
- 2 Bicyclists must follow rules of the road for drivers of vehicles, but not rules for drivers of motor vehicles
- 3 Bicyclists are never required to ride on the shoulder
- 4 Cyclists required to keep right except under certain conditions
- 4.1 CVC 21202 (a)
- 4.2 Lane sharing is not required when lane is less than fourteen feet wide
- 4.3 Lane sharing is not required whenever approaching any place where right turns can be made.
- 4.4 Bicycling single-file is not required
- 4.5 Bicyclists are never required to ride in door zones
- 4.6 Turning Off for Five or More Following Vehicles
- 5 Bicyclists required to use bike lane on roadway except under certain conditions
- 6 Yield and signal before moving left or right
- 7 Turning motorists are required to drive in bike lanes
- 8 Motorists allowed to drive 200 feet in bike lane before turning
- 9 Bicyclists are allowed, but never required, to ride in the shoulder
- 10 Freeways
- 11 Youths required to use helmets
- 12 City and county regulation of bicycling
- 13 See also
- 14 References
- 15 External links
The Vehicle Code is divided into eighteen whole-numbered divisions, and also has about a dozen "decimal divisions" (like 16.7). The divisions relevant to the operator of a bicycle are:
- Division 11 - Rules of the Road - CVC 21200 states that bicyclists are subject to abiding by the rules that apply to drivers of vehicles in "this division" of the vehicle code. Specific sections in Division 11 particularly relevant to bicyclists are covered in detail below in this article.
- Division 16.7 - Registration and Licensing of Bicycles
Bicyclists must follow rules of the road for drivers of vehicles, but not rules for drivers of motor vehicles
CVC 21200 to 21212
Laws Applicable to Bicycle Use: Peace Officer Exemption
21200. (a) Every person riding a bicycle upon a highway has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this division... except those provisions which by their very nature can have no application. 
CVC 21200 states that bicyclists (who are not police officers) riding on roadways have all the rights and responsibilities applicable to the driver of a vehicle by Division 11 of the California Vehicle Code, which are the Rules of the Road. Bicycling legal expert Alan Wachtel points out that a close reading of CVC 21200 reveals that provisions which apply specifically to drivers of specific types of vehicles (most notably drivers of motor vehicles) do not apply to bicyclists; only provisions which apply to general "drivers of vehicles" also apply to bicyclists. See CVC 21703 below for an example that clarifies this distinction.
Bicycles, like all other vehicles, must be on the right half of the road
Right Side of Roadway
21650. Upon all highways, a vehicle shall be driven upon the right half of the roadway ... 
CVC 21650 requires all vehicles (not just motor vehicles) to be driven "upon the right half of the roadway". Because of CVC 21200, this section applies to bicyclists - so bicyclists must ride on the right half of the roadway (not on the edge of the left half opposing traffic the way pedestrians are required) 
Racing and drafting bicycles is legal
Following Too Closely
21703. The driver of a motor vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, ...
23109. (a) A person shall not engage in a motor vehicle speed contest on a highway.
The only rules prohibiting drivers from "following another vehicle too closely" (tailgating) and racing are CVC 21703 and CVC 23109 respectively, but they apply explicitly only to drivers of motor vehicles. Since bicyclists have the same responsibilities as drivers of vehicles per CVC 21200, but not as drivers of motor vehicles, it is perfectly legal for bicyclists to draft and race on open public roads in California.
Bicyclists are never required to ride on the shoulder
530. A "roadway" is that portion of a highway improved, designed, or ordinarily used for vehicular travel. 
This section of the vehicle code, which defines "roadway", is relevant to bicyclists because the definition excludes shoulders (since shoulders are not "improved, designed or ordinarily used for vehicular travel"; vehicular travel on shoulders is prohibited), and bicyclists are required by CVC 21202 to only ride far right in the "roadway". This means bicyclists are never required to ride in the shoulder.
Cyclists required to keep right except under certain conditions
CVC 21202 (a)
Operation on Roadway
21202. A. 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:
- When overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction.
- When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.
- When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions (including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or substandard width lanes) that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge, subject to the provisions of Section 21656. For purposes of this section, a "substandard width lane" is a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.
- When approaching a place where a right turn is authorized.
Section 21202 (a) addresses the roadway position that a bicyclist moving slower than other traffic should use in the rare situations when none of the exceptions listed apply. These conditions are rare primarily because of the narrow lane provision, since most roads are not wide enough to meet the 14' minimum width requirement for side-by-side lane sharing recommended by AASHTO and specified in the laws of states like Texas that give a specific minimum width in this law.
But even in the rare situations where the lane is at least 14' wide and none of the other exceptions apply, the shall ride as close as practicable to the right wording is commonly misunderstood, even by law enforcement officers, to mean that a bicyclist must travel as far as possible to the right-hand side of the road. Indeed the CVC synopsis carried by patrolmen in most of the Police Divisions of Los Angeles, California (where it is obtained from the uniform shop in Long Beach) actually carries incorrect wording, substituting possible for practicable. In fact, the phrase means the bicyclist is required to ride only "as far to the right as is safe". This wording allows for some degree of subjectivity on the part of the cyclist.
The combination of the actual legal meaning of the practicable wording in 21202(a), including the implied provisos, with the explicit proviso that it only applies when the bicyclist is moving slower than other same direction traffic and the exceptions listed in 21202(a)(1), (2), (3) and (4), provide ample justification for bicyclists to take the lane in some urban, suburban and rural traffic cycling situations, as recommended by the safe vehicular cycling practices taught in the Effective Cycling program.
Simply put, whenever a bicyclist in any of the following situations:
- there is no faster same-direction traffic on the road at that time
- bicyclist is traveling as fast as, or faster than, other traffic
- bicyclist is passing others
- bicyclist is preparing to turn left
- bicyclist is avoiding hazardous conditions near the edge of the road
- the lane is too narrow to be safely shared side-by-side with other vehicles, or
- bicyclist is merely approaching a place where right turns are authorized (including any driveway, mall entrance or alley, as well any cross street)
there is no legal obligation to "ride as close as practicable to the right", as long as the cyclist safely merges left without violating anyone's right of way.
Lane sharing is not required when lane is less than fourteen feet wide
In general a lane must be at least fourteen feet wide for it to be considered wide enough to be safely shared side-by-side with other vehicles (per 21202(a)(3)). Since outside lanes are often more narrow than fourteen feet, this exception alone often alleviates a bicyclist from having to ride "as close as practicable to the right" in a lane sharing position.
Lane sharing is not required whenever approaching any place where right turns can be made.
Whenever a bicyclist is "approaching a place where a right turn is authorized", 21202 (a) (4) alleviates the bicyclist from having to ride "as close as practicable to the right", no matter how slow he or she is traveling. Considering moving at 15 mph through a residential neighborhood is encountering a driveway every 3–6 seconds (assuming lots 50–100 feet in length, and each lot has a driveway), such a bicyclist is arguably constantly "approaching a place where a right turn is authorized". Similar situations are frequently encountered in business districts. So this reason too often suffices alone in alleviating bicyclists from having to ride "as close as practicable to the right".
But even when traveling along a long block with a wide outside lane and without any driveway or alley junctions, as soon as the cyclist is within 100–200 feet of the end of the block, the cyclist is "approaching a place where a right turn is authorized" and he or she is no longer obligated to ride "as close as practicable to the right". There are important safety reasons to take advantage of this legal opportunity to safely merge left well out into the vehicular traffic lane.
Bicycling single-file is not required
There is no requirement in the California Vehicle Code for riding single-file.  However, since CVC 21202(a) requires a cyclist who is riding slower than other traffic when none of the exceptions apply to "ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway", under those conditions single-file riding is arguably implied. Enforcement of CVC 21202(a) is not consistent, however. Side-by-side riding may also be regulated by local ordinance, as in this example from the City of Torrance:
- SECTION 62.1.3 - RIDING IN A GROUP.
Persons operating bicycles upon a roadway shall not ride more than two (2) abreast except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.
Some argue these local ordinances are contravention of California CVC 21 Uniformity of Code.
If one cyclist is riding in the shoulder, and another is riding in an adjacent position "as close as practicable to the right" in the roadway, neither is in violation of CVC 21202.
Bicyclists are never required to ride in door zones
Opening and Closing Doors
22517. No person shall open the door of a vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless it is reasonably safe to do so and can be done without interfering with the movement of such traffic, nor shall any person leave a door open upon the side of a vehicle available to moving traffic for a period of time longer than necessary to load or unload passengers.
Amended Ch. 162, Stats. 1963. Effective September 20, 1963. 
CVC 22517 clearly makes it the responsibility of anyone opening a vehicle door to make sure it is reasonably safe before opening the door. However, the potential of someone failing to do that is always there, and so traffic cycling experts agree door zones are hazards that are to be avoided, and that riding at least four feet from parked cars is a good practice. Because of the hazard always present in door zones, bicyclists are never required by CVC 21202 or any other law to ride so far right that they could be hit by, or forced to swerve into the adjacent lane, potentially in front of overtaking traffic, by a suddenly opened door of a vehicle.
Turning Off for Five or More Following Vehicles
Turning Out of Slow-Moving Vehicles
On a two-lane highway where passing is unsafe because of traffic in the opposite direction or other conditions, a slow-moving vehicle, including a passenger vehicle, 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. As used in this section a slow-moving vehicle is one which is proceeding at a rate of speed less than the normal flow of traffic at the particular time and place.
The applicability of section 21656 to bicyclists is verified in Section 21202, which explicitly states that bicyclists are "subject to the provisions of Section 21656" . With five or more vehicles following in a line, but only on a two-lane highway, bicyclists, like all drivers, are to turn off the road whenever there is sufficient room to safely do so.
Bicyclists required to use bike lane on roadway except under certain conditions
Permitted Movements from Bicycle Lanes
(a) Whenever a bicycle lane has been established on a roadway pursuant to Section 21207, any person operating a bicycle upon the roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time shall ride within the bicycle lane, except that the person may move out of the lane under any of the following situations:
- (1) When overtaking and passing another bicycle, vehicle, or pedestrian within the lane or about to enter the lane if the overtaking and passing cannot be done safely within the lane.
- (2) When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.
- (3) When reasonably necessary to leave the bicycle lane to avoid debris or other hazardous conditions.
- (4) When approaching a place where a right turn is authorized.
(b) No person operating a bicycle shall leave a bicycle lane until the movement can be made with reasonable safety and then only after giving an appropriate signal in the manner provided in Chapter 6 (commencing with Section 22100) in the event that any vehicle may be affected by the movement.
Amended Sec. 5, Ch. 674, Stats. 1996. Effective January 1, 1997. 
On roads that have bike lanes, CVC 21208 generally restricts bicyclists to ride in the bike lane, except that it has virtually all of the same exceptions as does CVC 21202. That is, whenever any one of the following conditions apply, there is no legal restriction on the cyclist to ride in the bike lane:
- no faster same-direction traffic on the road at that time
- traveling as fast as, or faster than, other traffic
- passing others
- preparing to turn left
- avoiding debris or other hazardous conditions in the bike lane, or
- approaching a place where right turns are authorized (including driveways, mall entrances and alleys as well cross streets)
Just as for CVC 21202, since at least one of these "exception" conditions often applies in urban and suburban riding (bike lanes are rarely present in rural areas), practically speaking, the legal requirement to ride in bike lanes rarely applies.
Bicyclists are never required to use off-roadway bike lanes or paths
Since CVC 21208 applies only "whenever a bicycle lane has been established on a roadway", there is never a legal compulsion for a bicyclist to ride not in the roadway, but in a bike lane or path that is not on the roadway, or is physically separated from the roadway in any way (like a sidepath).
Yield and signal before moving left or right
Turning Movements and Required Signals
22107. No person shall turn a vehicle from a direct course or move right or left upon a roadway until such movement can be made with reasonable safety and then only after the giving of an appropriate signal in the manner provided in this chapter in the event any other vehicle may be affected by the movement.
Though not specific to bicyclists, because bicyclists are subject to the same rules as drivers of vehicles, CVC 22107 requires bicyclists to signal and verify the movement can be made with reasonable safety before moving from a direct course, such as when a movement left is required to avoid a hazard up ahead.
Turning motorists are required to drive in bike lanes
Turning Across Bicycle Lane
21717. Whenever it is necessary for the driver of a motor vehicle to cross a bicycle lane that is adjacent to his lane of travel to make a turn, the driver shall drive the motor vehicle into the bicycle lane prior to making the turn and shall make the turn pursuant to Section 22100.
Added Ch. 751, Stats. 1976. Effective January 1, 1977.
Motorists allowed to drive 200 feet in bike lane before turning
Motor Vehicles and Motorized Bicycles in Bicycle Lanes
21209. (a) No person shall drive a motor vehicle in a bicycle lane established on a roadway pursuant to Section 21207 except as follows:
(2) To enter or leave the roadway.
(3) To prepare for a turn within a distance of 200 feet from the intersection.
Not only are motor vehicle drivers in California allowed by CVC 21209 to drive in bicycle lanes when within 200 feet of an intersection, they are required by CVC 21717 to drive in the adjacent bike lane prior to turning. The purpose of this rule is to reduce conflicts at intersections between turning motorists and bicyclists going straight.
This rule, combined with provision 21208(a)(4) which allows bicyclists to leave bike lanes when approaching "a place where a right turn is authorized", encourages smooth conflict-free transitions at intersections by requiring slowing right turning motorists to move right, while bicyclists going straight merge left out of the bike lane, which is the behavior prescribed for avoiding "right hooks".
Bicyclists are allowed, but never required, to ride in the shoulder
Bicycle Operated on Roadway or Highway Shoulder
21650.1. A bicycle operated on a roadway, or the shoulder of a highway, shall be operated in the same direction as vehicles are required to be driven upon the roadway. Added Ch. 58, Stats. 1988. Effective January 1, 1989.
21650(g) clarifies that bicyclists, unlike drivers of vehicles, are generally not prohibited from riding in shoulders, and 21650.1 clearly states that bicyclists ridden in shoulders must ride in the same direction as vehicles in the adjacent lane. However, no section of the vehicle code requires bicyclists to ever ride in the shoulder. CVC 21202, even when none of the provisos and exceptions apply, merely requires cyclists to ride "as close as practicable to the right ... edge of the roadway", and roadway, per CVC 530, clearly does not include the shoulder.
CVC Section 21960
Freeways and Expressways Use Restrictions
21960. (a) The Department of Transportation and local authorities, by order, ordinance, or resolution, with respect to freeways, expressways, or designated portions thereof under their respective jurisdictions, to which vehicle access is completely or partially controlled, may prohibit or restrict the use of the freeways, expressways, or any portion thereof by pedestrians, bicycles or other nonmotorized traffic or by any person operating a motor-driven cycle, motorized bicycle, or motorized scooter. 
Use of bicycles on freeways maybe be prohibited or restricted.
Youths required to use helmets
CVC Section 21212
Youth Bicycle Helmets: Minors
21212. (a) A person under 18 years of age shall not operate a bicycle, a nonmotorized scooter, or a skateboard, nor shall they wear in-line or roller skates, nor ride upon a bicycle, a nonmotorized scooter, or a skateboard as a passenger, upon a street, bikeway, as defined in Section 890.4 of the Streets and Highways Code, or any other public bicycle path or trail unless that person is wearing a properly fitted and fastened bicycle helmet that meets the standards of either the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) or the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), or standards subsequently established by those entities. 
Bicyclists under the age of 18 must wear helmets.
City and county regulation of bicycling
Uniformity of Code
21. Except as otherwise expressly provided, the provisions of this code are applicable and uniform throughout the State and in all counties and municipalities therein, and no local authority shall enact or enforce any ordinance on the matters covered by this code unless expressly authorized herein.
Rules and Regulations: Subject Matter
21100. Local authorities may adopt rules and regulations by ordinance or resolution regarding the following matters:
(h) Operation of bicycles, and, as specified in Section 21114.5, electric carts by physically disabled persons, or persons 50 years of age or older, on the public sidewalks.
While not referencing bicyclists specifically, Section 21 is critical to California bicyclists because it prohibits local authorities from enacting or enforcing laws that contradict statewide rules.
Sidewalk cycling may be banned
CVC 21100 lists the matters on which "Local authorities may adopt rules and regulations by ordinance or resolution". 21100(h) specifically permits regulation of riding on the sidewalk:
- "Local authorities may adopt rules and regulations by ordinance or resolution regarding the following matters:
- (h) Operation of bicycles ... on the public sidewalks."
Under this provision, many California cities have banned sidewalk bicycling in business districts.
Riding in groups (assemblages) may be regulated or prohibited
Under CVC 21100(a) local authorities may adopt ordinances for the purpose of "Regulating or prohibiting processions or assemblages on the highways."
- A useful section in Transportation of Los Angeles for anyone using a bicycle for travel in Los Angeles.
- Vehicular cycling
- California Department of Motor Vehicles, CVC 21200, Laws Applicable to Bicycle Use: Peace Officer Exemption
- Alan Wachtel, Bicyclists Must Obey Traffic Laws, Bicycles and the Law: The Case of California
- California Department of Motor Vehicles, CVC 21650, Right Side of Roadway
- ""California Driver Handbook"".
Bicyclists ... must ride in the same direction as other traffic, not against it.
- California Department of Motor Vehicles, CVC 21703, Following Too Closely
- California Department of Motor Vehicles, CVC 23109, Speed Contests
- provisions that apply only to certain types of drivers do not automatically apply to bicyclists. Wachtel, Alan. "Bicycles and the Law: The Case of California". Retrieved 2012-11-01.
- Forester, John. Bicycle Transportation (second ed.). p. 322.
The following too closely rule was written to apply only to drivers of motor vehicles because only motor vehicles had the ability to cause substantial injury and damage to the drivers and vehicles ahead of them. The racing rules were not applied to cyclists because the [sic?] were intended to control the great dangers to the public of motor vehicles driven at unlawful speeds and in unlawful manners. ... In fact, in many ways motorists are more restricted than cyclists because of the public danger of their vehicles when improperly controlled. They promoted [defining bicyclists as vehicles] as putting cyclists under the racing rules and prohibiting pace lining.
- California Department of Motor Vehicles, CVC 530, Roadway
- California Department of Motor Vehicles, CVC 21202, Operation on Roadway
- Bluejay, Michael. "Official text of Texas Bicycle Laws". Bicycle Austin. Retrieved 18 January 2012.
a person operating a bicycle on a roadway ... shall ride.. right ... unless... (4) the person is operating a bicycle in an outside lane that is: (A) less than 14 feet in width and does not have a designated bicycle lane adjacent to that lane
- Mionske, Bob (2008-06-03). "Legally Speaking with Bob Mionske - From Tombstone to Dodge". Retrieved 2009-05-28.
If you think of the law as saying you must ride as close to the right as is safe, rather than as close to the right as possible, you’ll be right on the money.
- A common mistake made by law-enforcement officers (and others) is to interpret the requirement to ride "as close as practicable to the right" to mean "as close as possible." ... it means you are required to ride as close as can reasonably be accomplished under the circumstances to the right. ... the statute allows for some degree of subjectivity on the rider's part. Mionske, Bob (2007). Bicycling & The Law. Boulder, Colorado: VeloPress. pp. 57–58.
- AASHTO’s 1999 Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities states (p. 17): "In general, 4.2 m (14 feet) of usable lane width is the recommended width for shared use in a wide curb lane...."Pein, Wayne (December 2003). "How wide should a lane be?" (PDF). Retrieved 2009-05-25.
- an experienced bicyclist would generally move away from the edge of the road when approaching an intersection, in order to avoid the danger of being trapped and struck by overtaking right-turning vehiclesWachtel, Alan. "Bicycles and the Law: The Case of California". Retrieved 2009-05-26. [dead link]
- Miles, Michael. ["http://northcountycycleclub.com/smf/index.php?topic=628.msg1458" "Bicycle Travel on pacific Coast Highway (State Route 1)"] Check
The vehicle code does not require single file riding, either in the roadway or on the shoulder.
- Bernardi, Rick. "Non-Existent Laws, And The Cops Who Enforce Them". BicycleLaw.com.
- "TORRANCE MUNICIPAL CODE". City of Torrance Code of Ordinances, Article 1, Section 62.1.3.
- California Department of Motor Vehicles, CVC 21, Uniformity of Code
- California Department of Motor Vehicles, CVC 22517, Opening and Closing Doors
- California Department of Motor Vehicles, CVC 21656, Turning Out of Slow-Moving Vehicles
- California Department of Motor Vehicles, CVC 21208, Permitted Movements from Bicycle Lanes
- Bicyclists, even slow ones, are never required to ride on the shoulder (or on sidewalks or bike paths) rather than on the roadway Wachtel, Alan. "Bicycles and the Law: The Case of California". Retrieved 2009-05-26. [dead link]
- California Department of Motor Vehicles, CVC 22107, Turning Movements and Required Signals
- California Department of Motor Vehicles, CVC 21717, Turning Across Bicycle Lane
- California Department of Motor Vehicles, CVC 21209, Motor Vehicles and Motorized Bicycles in Bicycle Lanes
- Ride to the left. Taking up the whole lane makes it harder for drivers to pass you to cut you off or turn into you. Don't feel bad about taking the lane: if motorists didn't threaten your life by turning in front of or into you or passing you too closely, then you wouldn't have to., Michael Bluejay, bicyclesafe.com, The Right Hook
- California Department of Motor Vehicles, CVC 21650.1, Bicycle Operated on Roadway or Highway Shoulder
- Many motorists do not know that legally, bicyclists on conventional roadways are never required to use a separated path, or even a shoulder."Bicycles and the Law: The Case of California". May 1995. Retrieved 2009-05-25. [dead link]
- California Department of Motor Vehicles, CVC 21960, Freeways and Expressways Use Restrictions
- California Department of Motor Vehicles, CVC 21212, CVC Section 21212 Youth Bicycle Helmets Minors
- California Department of Motor Vehicles, CVC 21100, Rules and Regulations: Subject Matter
- Alan Wachtel, The State Preempts Local Regulation of Bicycle Traffic, Bicycles and the Law: The Case of California
- Bicycles and the Law: The Case of California, Alan Wachtel. Detailed discussion of California laws and safety considerations as they apply to bicyclists.
- The California Vehicle Code is available online through the Department of Motor Vehicles as either a webpage (html) or a pdf.
- The Table of Contents for Article 4 of Chapter 1 ("Obedience to and Effect of Traffic Laws") of Division 11 of the California Vehicle Code which is entitled Operation of Bicycles.