California Bicycle Laws & Crash Help


The California Vehicle Code (VEH) contains the state laws that specify where and how bikes must operate. For the most part, bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as motor vehicle drivers. (VEH 21200).

There are some specific rules. Below, for your benefit, we summarize the key sections of the law that relate to cycling.

Father and daughter bike path

If you’re moving as fast as traffic, you can ride wherever you want.

If you’re moving slower than traffic, you can “take the lane” if it’s not wide enough for a bike and a vehicle to safely share side-by-side. The law says that people who ride bikes must ride as close to the right side of the road as practicable except under the following conditions: when passing, preparing for a left turn, avoiding hazards, if the lane is too narrow to share, or if approaching a place where a right turn is authorized. (VEH 21202) Unfortunately, some motorists and even police don’t understand cyclists’ right to “take the lane.” If you have a legal problem based on this understanding, consider calling one of the bike-friendly lawyers we identify under Legal Resources below.

Use the bicycle lane. On a roadway with a bike lane, 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. VEH 21208

You don’t have to use the “protected bike lane.” Once a bike lane is separated from moving traffic bywith posts or car parking or anything else, it’s no longer a “bike lane” according to the law; it’s a “separated bikeway.” In this case, VEH 21208 does not apply. You may ride outside of the separated bikeway for any reason. (SHC 890.4d)

Ride with traffic. Bicyclists must travel on the right side of the roadway in the direction of traffic, except when passing, making a legal left turn, riding on a one-way street, riding on a road that is too narrow, or when the right side of the road is closed due to road construction. VEH 21650

Mopeds and high-speed electric bikes are not like regular bikes. Gas-powered bicycles and type 3 electric bicycles (with top assisted speeds of 28 mph) may not be used on trails, bike paths, or bike lanes unless allowed by local authorities. They may be used in bike lanes or separated bikeways adjacent to the roadway. VEH 21207.5  They require helmets and may not be operated by people under age 16. VEH 21213

Low-speed electric bicycles are almost like regular bikes. Type 1 and 2 electric bicycles (with top assisted speeds of 20 mph) are allowed wherever regular bikes are allowed unless a sign specifically prohibits electric bicycles.

Bike path obstruction: No one may stop on or park a bicycle on a bicycle path. VEH 21211

Sidewalks: Individual cities and counties control whether bicyclists may ride on sidewalks.  VEH 21206

Freeways: Bicycles (including motorized bicycles) may not be ridden on freeways and expressways where doing so is prohibited by the California Department of Transportation and local authorities. VEH 21960

Toll bridges: Bicyclists may not cross a toll bridge unless permitted to do so by the California Department of Transportation. VEH 23330

Brakes: Bicycles must be equipped with a brake that allows an operator to execute a one-braked-wheel skid on dry, level, clean pavement. VEH 21201(a)

Handlebars: Handlebars must not place the hands higher than the rider’s shoulders. VEH 21201(b)

Bicycle size: Bicycles must be small and/or large enough for the rider to stop, support the bicycle with one foot on the ground, and start safely. VEH 21201(c)

Lights and Reflectors: 

  • At night, the following must be attached to the bicycle or bicyclist:
    • white headlight visible from the front
    • red reflector or a red light with a built in reflector (can be solid of flashing) visible from the rear
    • white or yellow reflector on each pedal or on the bicyclist’s shoes or ankles that is visible from the front and the rear
    • a white or yellow reflector on the front half of the bicycle, and a red or white reflector on each side of the back half of the bicycle. These reflectors are not required if the bike has reflectorized front and back tires.
  • VEH 21201(d) #1-4 and VEH 21201(e)
    • Although not required, some cyclists like to use flashing front and rear lights during the day to make themselves more visible to vehicles

Seats: All riders must have a permanent, regular seat unless the bicycle is designed by the manufacturer to be ridden without a seat. Bicycle passengers weighing less than 40 lbs. must have a seat that retains them in place and protects them from moving parts. VEH 21204

Helmets: Bicyclists and bicycle passengers under the age of 18 must wear an approved helmet when riding on a bicycle. VEH 21212

Headphones: Bicyclists may not wear earplugs in both ears or a headset covering both ears. Hearing aids are allowed. VEH 27400

Cell phones: Unlike motorists, cyclists are permitted to use a handheld cell phone while riding. Be careful! VEH 23123

Alcohol and drugs: Bicyclists may not ride while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. VEH 21200.5

Hitching rides: Bicyclists may not hitch rides or attach themselves to vehicles. VEH 21203

Carrying articles: Bicyclists may not carry items that keep them from using at least one hand on the handlebars. VEH 21205

Pedestrians: Bicyclists must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians within marked crosswalks or within unmarked crosswalks at intersections. Bicyclists must also yield the right-of-way to totally or partially blind pedestrians carrying a predominantly white cane or using a guide dog. VEH 21950 and VEH 21963

Parking: Bicyclists may not leave bicycles on their sides on the sidewalk or park bicycles in a manner that obstructs pedestrians. VEH 21210

Motor vehicle drivers overtaking and passing a person on a bicycle traveling in the same direction must provide at least three feet between the vehicle and the bicycle when passing. If the driver and bicyclist are in the same lane, the driver must move to another lane prior to passing, if one is available. If the driver is unable to provide at least three feet between the vehicle and bicycle to pass, and another lane is not available in the same direction, the driver must slow and wait to pass until doing so would not endanger the bicyclist. VEH 21760


  • Take a deep breath and regain your calm. You’ll be full of adrenaline, but check yourself for injuries & seek medical help if you have any doubts.
  • Call 911 to get the police to come.
  • Tell the driver to stay. If they won’t, get a description of car and the license plate. Take pictures if you can.
  • Get the name and contact information of witnesses. Ask them to stay until the police come if they can.
  • Exercise your right against self-incrimination; don’t tell anyone the collision was your fault.
  • Remain at the scene until police arrive and request the officer files a report and request a copy.
  • Call an attorney – some are listed above.

Be Prepared

Do these things today, before a crash.

Get uninsured motorist insurance.

Uninsured motorist coverage pays your medical bills, lost wages, out-of-pocket expenses, and pain and suffering. It is applied to losses in the past and into the future. If someone hits you and they have no insurance, too little insurance to cover your damages, or if they hit and run or the car is stolen, your uninsured motorist insurance covers you! It covers you on a bike, in a car, or on foot. It is indispensable.

Own a car? State law requires it to be insured. Look at your declaration page (it comes with the packet you get from your insurance company). There should be a section entitled Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist. This amount cannot be less than your liability amount (the amount that applies if you are at fault). UM only covers you if the other driver is at fault, so it is non-chargeable. That means it is not available to you if you are at fault. And your rates should not go up for invoking it.

Don’t have a car? Many insurance companies offer non-operators’ policies. That means you can have insurance, even if you do not own a car. Progressive sells a non-operator’s UM/UIM policy up to $100,000. State Farm up to $250,000. And AAA up to $500,000. This list is inclusive, not exclusive. There may be others as well. And it is no endorsement, but you cannot have too little insurance. If you can afford the $500,000, get it. If you own a home you likely have homeowners insurance. That makes you eligible for an umbrella policy. Ask your broker about a Combined Single Limit policy into which you can fold excess coverage from your UM/UIM policy. That may qualify you for even more coverage. You cannot be over-insured. $1,000,000 is not unreasonable. $2,000,000 is not unreasonable. $5,000,000 is not unreasonable. It helps.

Program your phone with your emergency contacts. 

If you have a smartphone, ensure that your health ID information is set up and current. You can also make a photo for your lock screen that includes emergency contact info.

Add local emergency dispatch numbers to your phone for the cities or counties in which you regularly ride.

In some municipalities, using a cell phone to call 911 can route your call to the California Highway Patrol, which can add critical minutes to first responders’ arrival time. You can easily find the direct number for any municipality’s dispatch with a quick internet search.


Enter your name and email to download CalBike’s handy crash card. Carry it with you on your bike for reference in the unlikely event of a crash.