Bicycling Rules of the Road

The Rules of the Road section of the Vehicle Code controls traffic movements. Every driver should understand these rules, and every traffic officer and traffic court administrator must understand these rules for the traffic law system to operate properly. Frequently, traffic officers and even traffic judges misinterpret CVC 21202, resulting in harassment and even wrongful conviction of bicyclists.

CVC 21200: Bicyclists’ Rights

Bicyclists have to be legitimate roadway users. CVC 21200 accomplishes this by assigning bicyclists the rights and duties of drivers of vehicles. That’s reasonable and easily understood. However, CVC 21202 adds complications that make it very difficult to understand how a bicycle should be operated.

CVC 21202

CVC 21202 has two parts. The first part, adopted in 1962, reduces bicyclists’ right to use the roadway to only the right-hand edge. The Highway Patrol advocated this statute because the state needed a bicycle traffic law that could be understood by any child. There was no examination of the actual effect of this law.

In 1972, the Legislature established the Statewide Bicycle Committee to examine the state’s traffic laws for bicyclists. That Committee found that staying at the edge of the roadway either endangered bicyclists (as when turning left) or made it impossible to operate (as when reaching a parked automobile). The Committee recommended a set of exceptions in which obeying the standard rules of the road was safer than obeying 21202.The Legislature enacted these in 1976 as the second part of CVC 21202, One of these exceptions is when a lane is too narrow for a motor vehicle and a bicycle to safely share side-by-side. This exception applies to nearly all roads that bicyclists are allowed to use. Whenever a 21202 exception applies, the bicyclist is required by 21200 to obey the standard rules of the road.

Misuse of CVC 21202

A bicyclist riding lawfully, but not close to the curb, is seen by a traffic police officer. The officer, believing that cyclists are limited to the edge of the roadway, charges the bicyclist with violating 21202. The traffic judge, whose day is given up to hearing silly excuses and who doesn’t understand 21202, agrees with the officer and convicts the bicyclist. Variations of this occur weekly, even daily.

CVC 21202 is Inoperative

Where an exception to 21202 exists, bicyclists must obey the standard rules of the road instead of 21202. Since there are very few locations where none of these exceptions applies, there are very few locations where 21202 can have any legal effect. 21202 does nothing at all almost everywhere in the state.

Bicyclist Inferiority Belief

Traffic officers and judges keep trying to convict bicyclists of violating 21202 because they believe that 21202 makes bicyclists illegitimate roadway users, that they delay legitimate roadway users, that their use of the roadway is unsafe, that they are unable to obey the standard rules of the road. Just to shorten discussion, each one of these beliefs has been proved incorrect.

By 1925, Motordom had managed to drive pedestrians off the roadway, onto sidewalks. Motordom is the collection of motoring organizations, including the traffic police, who lobby for motorists. By 1925, Motordom started its campaign to drive cyclists off the roadway, for the convenience of motorists. Motordom worked largely through fear: “Ride your bicycle on the roadway and you will be hit by a motor vehicle!” Motordom could not get bicycling prohibited, but it did get it limited to the edge of the roadway: in the Uniform Vehicle Code in 1944, in the CVC in 1962. Motordom was so successful that its fear became a phobia, which is a fear that controls actions despite any evidence for it.

It is that phobia that directs the actions of traffic police against lawful cyclists. They fully believe the first part of 21202, but they refuse to believe the second part that was enacted to protect cyclists from the first part of 21202.

How Long to Learn?

The present form of 21202, with the exceptions, was enacted in 1976, and the traffic police still have not learned what was enacted forty years ago. That shows that 21202 actually operates through a phobic fear and not through reason.

The Only Practical Response: Repeal of 21202

21202 Does Nothing Lawful

As described above, CVC 21202 enables legal action in only the very few unimportant parts of the California road system that have outside lane widths of 14 feet or more.

21202 Does Not Make Bicycling Safer

Not only does 21202 not make cycling safer, but the first part of 21202 makes cycling more dangerous in many situations, as acknowledged by the Legislature.

21202 Encourages Police to Unlawfully Harass Bicyclists

The only legal effect produced by 21202 is the unlawful harassment of bicyclists by police who believe in only the first part of 21202 and not the second part.

Repeal of 21202 is the only Practical Response

Revision of 21202, done forty years ago, has not changed police actions. Repealing 21202 will remove the statute that police use to unlawfully harass bicyclists.