California Bicycle Laws
The California Bicycle law firm of Nadrich & Cohen with 24 offices throughout California provides the following information for its public.
These code sections address bicyclists specifically. We have also included explanations after some of the code sections.
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. We believe 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.
Bicycles, like all other vehicles, must be on the right half of the road.
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 – Per CVC 21200 bicyclists are subject to abiding by the rules that apply to drivers of vehicles in this division of the vehicle code. Specific sections particularly relevant to bicyclists are covered in detail below.
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.
Bicycles, like all other vehicles, must be on the right half of the road CVC 21650
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).
CVC 21703 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,
Speed Contests 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.
CVC 530 Definition of “roadway” does not include 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 becausethe 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 only when faster same direction traffic is present on long turn-free sections with wide lanes and no debris or other hazards
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:
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. Even then, 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 always travel as far as possible to the right-hand side of the road.
Simply put, whenever a bicyclist in any of the following situations:
There is no legal or safety reason or 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.
Further, 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, there can be no violation of CVC 21202 no matter what.
CVC 22517 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 Out of Slow-Moving Vehicles
21656. 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.
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 only when faster traffic is present on long turn-free sections with no hazards or debris  CVC 21208.
Permitted Movements from Bicycle Lanes
21208. (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:
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:
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 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.
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”.
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.
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.
(h) Operation of bicycles … on the public sidewalks.”
So, local authorities may adopt rules and regulations that address bicycling on public sidewalks (indeed, many California cities have banned sidewalk bicycling in business districts), but may not adopt rules and regulations that specially regulate bicycling traffic on public roads.
Please do not rely on the summary of the Law and any Vehicle Code sections presented on this site. They are meant for illustration only. To know the accuracy or applicability of any code section consult an experienced bicycle injury law firm or read the actual California Vehicle Code.
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