Sharing the Road

Safety Tips for Bicyclists and Motorists

Each year in California, more than 100 bicyclists are killed and over 10,000 are injured in collisions, commonly caused by bicyclists’ and/or motorists’ behavior, lack of skill, or attention. Although bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as motorists and are subject to the same rules and regulations, it is crucial that bicyclists pay attention to traffic signs and signals and follow all rules to reduce the risk of collisions, while on the road. Refer to the California Driver Handbook to become familiar with these rules.

In addition, the California Vehicle Code (CVC) contains specific laws pertaining to bicycle riders. It is unlawful to operate a bicycle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Convictions may be punishable by a fine (CVC §21200.5). If you are under 21 years old, but over 13 years old, and convicted of operating a bicycle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, your driving privilege may be suspended or delayed for 1 year once you are eligible to drive (CVC §13202.5).

Four Basic Safety Tips

Here are four basic bicycling tips:

  1. Maintain control.
  2. Protect yourself. Reduce the risk of head injury by always wearing a helmet.
  3. Be visible and alert. Use hand signals and eye contact to communicate your intentions.
  4. Ride in a safe lane position with traffic.

1.) Maintain Control of Your Bicycle

The following are things you can do to maintain control of your bicycle, even in an emergency:

  • Ensure your bicycle is the right size and properly adjusted to fit you.
  • Ensure your bicycle is in good working order by inspecting it regularly.
    — Per CVC §21201(a), it is unlawful to operate a bicycle that is not equipped with functioning brakes.

2.) Protect Yourself

Properly-fitted helmets provide protection from a potentially life-threatening head injury. By law, bicycle riders under 18 years old must wear a bicycle helmet while riding on a public road (CVC §21212).

Wear your helmet per manufacturer directions.

Right and wrong way to wear a bicycle helmet.

3.) Be Visible and Alert

Even if you obey all traffic laws, there is always a risk of a collision.

  • Be prepared to stop for vehicles waiting at stop signs, in driveways, or parking spaces, which may suddenly pull out in front of you.
  • Be prepared to take evasive action relating to vehicles that have just passed you and may turn right, as well as vehicles coming the opposite way that may turn left in front of you.
  • Use hand signals before making turns or changing lanes to warn traffic around you. You do not have to keep your arm extended while completing maneuvers; always have at least one hand on the handlebars to maintain control.
    — To signal a left turn, look behind you, over your left shoulder, and then extend your left arm out.
    — To signal a right turn, hold your left arm up with your elbow bent.
    — To signal that you are slowing or stopping, extend your left arm down.
Left turn signal from bicyclist.
Right turn signal from bicyclist.
Stopping or slowing down signal from bicyclist.

Using lights and reflectors at night is the law (CVC §21201). During darkness, bicyclists should avoid wearing dark clothing and must have the following equipment:

  • A front lamp emitting a white light visible from a distance of 300 feet.
  • A rear red reflector or a solid or flashing red light with a built in reflector visible from a distance of 500 feet.
  • A white or yellow reflector on each pedal or on the bicyclist’s shoes or ankles visible from a distance of 200 feet.
  • A white or yellow reflector on the front wheel, a white or red reflector on the rear wheel, or reflectorized tires.

Use mirrors only as an aid. Always look over your shoulder to make sure the lane is clear before turning or changing lanes.

4.) Ride in a Safe Lane Position

Ride in the same direction as traffic so you are more visible to drivers entering roads or changing lanes in the following scenarios:

  • Passing a vehicle or another bicycle in the same direction.
  • Preparing to make a left turn at an intersection, into a private road, or at a driveway.
  • When necessary to avoid a hazard or road condition (i.e., pedestrians, animals, surface hazards).
  • When a lane is too narrow for a bicycle and vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.
  • When approaching a right turn.
  • If the road is one-way with two or more lanes. In this case, a bicyclist may ride as near to the left curb or edge of roadway as possible.


Keep your eyes on the road ahead. Avoid potholes, gravel, broken glass, drainage grates, puddles you can’t see through, or other unsafe road conditions. When possible, signal before changing lanes. Slow down when approaching an intersection to ensure there is no oncoming traffic that may not see you.

Parked Vehicles

Bicyclists should ride far enough away from parked vehicles to avoid being hit by an opening door.

Image showing bicyclist riding far enough away from a parked vehicle to avoid being hit by an opening door.

Using Bicycle Lanes

A bicycle lane is a designated traffic lane for bicyclists. However, motorists must merge into a bicycle lane when making right turns. These lanes are marked by a solid white line, which becomes a dotted line ending before it reaches the corner. Different from a simple white line showing the edge of the road, a bicycle lane follows specific width requirements and is clearly marked as a bike lane with symbols and/or signs. Bicycle lanes are sometimes painted a bright green color in order to increase visibility. Treat a bicycle lane painted bright green just like any other bicycle lane. Drivers of motorized bicycles must use bicycle lanes carefully to avoid collisions with other bicyclists.

Obey Traffic Signs and Signals

Bicyclists must obey STOP signs and red signal lights, and follow basic right-of-way rules. Do not cross through an intersection with a yellow signal light if you cannot make it across the intersection before the light changes to red.

Left Turns

There are two proper methods for making a left turn on a bicycle:

1. Using Traffic Lanes

Proper way to make a left turn on a bicycle.

As you approach the intersection, look over your left shoulder for traffic. If clear, signal your turn and move over to the left side of the lane, or into the left or center turn lane. Use the whole turn lane, and position yourself so that vehicles turning the same direction cannot pass you. Yield to oncoming traffic before turning. If you are riding in a bicycle lane or on a multi-lane road, look and signal every time you change lanes. Never make a left turn from the right side of the road, even if you are in a bicycle lane.

2. Using Crosswalks

Proper way for a bicyclist to use a crosswalk.

Approach the intersection staying on the right. Stop and cross as a pedestrian in the crosswalk, or make a 90-degree left turn and proceed as if you were coming from the right. If there is a signal light, wait for the green light or WALK signal before crossing. Yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk.