Do Cyclists Have to Stay in the Bike Lane in California?

California law allows cyclist to ride in traffic with the motor vehicles and are treated as vehicles for the purposes of traffic codes and rights-of-way. However, the law also states that if the cyclist is unable to keep up with the flow of traffic, then riding in the bike lane (where there is one) is required (CVC §21208).

However, there are exceptions that are there to keep the cyclist safe:

  • If bike lane is blocked by debris, objects or cars,
  • Hazardous to ride in bike lane,
  • Cyclist is making a left turn
  • Cyclist is making authorized right turn

In many of the downtown regions—especially in the larger cities like San Francisco and Oakland—the traffic typically goes slow enough to accommodate a cyclist riding in traffic, however, when the traffic is too fast, then the cyclist needs to be in the bike lane for their protection.

Safety is Reason for Bike Lane Laws

Numerous studies show that when a cyclist uses a bike lane, they are 50 percent less likely to get in an accident, and when that lane is a protected lane (meaning it’s separated by a physical barrier from the traffic lane) then that number goes to 90 percent.

So riding in the bike lane is safer for the cyclist from being struck and injured by the larger and faster motor vehicles.