Our Side-by-Side Riding Bill Paves the Way for Much Bigger Win for Bicyclists

by / July 06, 2016

We are dropping AB 2509, which would have clarified cyclists' right to ride side-by-side, in favor of a much more important win for bicyclists’ rights next session: as we worked to gain the California Highway Patrol’s support for the bill, we paved the way for an overhaul of the laws governing bicyclists’ rights to the roadway.

Our bill to #legalizehandholding was never intended to change the substance of the law. Instead, we wanted to prevent police from ticketing people who legally ride side-by-side. In certain situations, such as in a right lane too narrow to share, when the Vehicle Code doesn’t require you to ride as “far to the right as practicable,” then it also doesn’t require you to ride single file. It allows you ride beside your partner or friend, or beside your child to keep them safe.

But the law isn’t clearly written, and police officers don’t know about it. Too many people were getting tickets for this legal behavior and even the judges sometimes upheld the tickets, enforcing what they wish the law would be—bicyclists are supposed to be out of the way—and not what the law really is—bicyclists have the right to take the lane if necessary for safety.

holding_hands.jpgOne of our favorite #legalizehandholding photos.

Disagreements with Senate leaders and CHP officials about whether the law already allows side-by-side riding (which it does) made it clear that our real challenge lies in clarifying bicyclists’ right to take the lane when necessary. All sides agreed that the law is not clear enough on that point so we decided along with our bill’s author Assemblymember Phil Ting to shelve our current bill on side-by-side riding for this year to work on a much bigger and more important effort to clarify the right to take the lane.

California’s law requiring bicyclists to ride “as far to the right as practicable” is typical for state Vehicle Codes in the U.S., which is to say, it’s not very good. It was written to require bicyclists to ride out of the way of motorists, even though the law already required slower-moving traffic to ride “as far to the right as practicable.” Over the years, for safety reasons, exceptions were added to the Code, but the unnecessary essence of it remained intact.

The result is an unsafe emphasis by law enforcement on a perceived requirement that bicyclists should normally be out of the way of car traffic. For example, the Vehicle Code summary booklet that many police officers carry includes the requirement to ride to the right but makes no mention of the exceptions.

The Vehicle Codes of some other states, such as Colorado, do a much better job of communicating where a bicyclist should ride in order to be safe.

This fall, we will look for best practices from other states as we engage CHP, Assemblymember Ting, legislative leaders and bicycle safety experts to rewrite California Vehicle Code section 21202 from scratch. The goal is a set of new Vehicle Codes that leads the nation in protecting bicyclists’ rights to safe travel on our shared roadways.


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