Can cyclists use traffic lanes in California?

On Behalf of | Jun 6, 2023 | Bicycle Accidents |

In the bustling state of California, where many choose cycling as their desired means of transportation, the question of whether cyclists can use entire traffic lanes has sparked numerous debates and discussions. Cycling is popular because it enables proactive exercising and helps individuals lower their carbon footprint. 

But unfortunately, cyclists face numerous safety risks because many people are oblivious to the laws catering to this group. If you’re interested in promoting the safety of cyclists and encouraging harmonious road sharing between motorists and cyclists, understanding these laws is essential.

When can a cyclist occupy an entire traffic lane?

Contrary to popular belief, cyclists in California have the legal right to use the entire traffic lane under certain circumstances. According to the California Vehicle Code Section 21202, cyclists are generally required to ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway. However, there are exceptions where cyclists are permitted and, in some cases, required to use the entire lane:

When cyclists prepare to make a left turn, pass another cyclist or vehicle, or avoid a hazard, they can temporarily occupy the full lane. Furthermore, if a traffic lane is too narrow for a cyclist and a vehicle to travel safely side by side, the cyclist has the right to use the full lane. 

What safety measures should cyclists take before using an entire lane?

While cyclists are entitled to use the full traffic lane when necessary, it’s important to emphasize the need for responsible and safe cycling practices. Cyclists should always try to ensure they are visible to other road users by using front and rear lights, reflectors and reflective clothing — especially during low-light conditions. 

Additionally, cyclists are required to obey all traffic laws, including stopping at red lights and stop signs, yielding to pedestrians and signaling turns or lane changes. Cyclists should also use hand signals and eye contact with drivers to indicate their intentions and help ensure mutual understanding.

Cyclists in California have the legal right to use the entire traffic lane under specific circumstances outlined by the state’s vehicle code. By allowing cyclists to occupy the whole lane when necessary, California promotes road safety, encourages cycling as a mode of transportation, and helps reduce the likelihood of accidents caused by inadequate passing distances and dooring incidents.