Whether a bicyclist, motorist, or pedestrian is liable for injury or criminal sanctions on California roads requires a case-by case analysis. An experienced and knowledgeable attorney in California law as it relates to bicycles, motor vehicles, and pedestrians should be consulted to determine where liability lies.
Under California law, a bicyclist on public roads is generally subject to the same laws as a motorist on public roads. Section 21200 of the California Vehicle specifies that “(a) Every person riding a bicycle upon a roadway or any paved shoulder shall have all the rights and shall be subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this division, which include, but are not limited to, the provisions dealing with driving under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs, or the combined influence thereof, Division 10 (commencing with Section 20000, and Division 17, commencing with Section 40000), except those provisions which by their very nature can have no application.”
The general sense of this is that bicyclists are governed by the same rules of the road as motorists under California law, including but not limited to provisions requiring stops at traffic lights and stop signs, those limiting a vehicle’ speed, those requiring the surrender of the right of way generally and to pedestrians established in a crosswalks, and those preventing wrong way driving. In the case of Velasquez v. Superior Court (2014) 227 Cal.app.4th 1471, a California Court of Appeal in a 2014 case held that a bicyclist could be convicted of reckless driving of a vehicle causing specified bodily injury where an intoxicated bicyclist ran into a pedestrian at a high rate of speed causing serious injury.
Section 21200 specifically excepts “those provisions which by their very nature can have no application,” which is a provision which is left to the courts to construe, as the Velasquez decision above illustrates. Some obvious Vehicle Code provisions that would be excepted from the reach of section 21200 would include those relating to motor vehicle registration, licensure, and specific motor vehicle safety features.
The particular applicability of the California Vehicle Code and general rules of the role to bicyclists in a given situation requires a case-by-case determination. Not infrequently, experts can be retained to explain and elaborate the general duties of care and rules of the road of both bicyclists and motorists. An experienced and knowledgeable attorney in California law as it relates to bicycles, motor vehicles, and pedestrians should be consulted to determine where liability lies in a bicycle accident on California roads.