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Rules of the Road: Do Cyclists Have the Right of Way?

September 23, 2021 Bicycle Accidents

The right of way becomes an issue, typically because the rights and responsibilities of motorists and cyclists are not entirely understood. It is a common misconception that cyclists have more in common with pedestrians under the law than motorists. Here, our San Diego bike accident lawyers discuss the major question between bicyclists and drivers: who really has the right of way on the road?

Do Cyclists Have the Right of Way?So, Who Has the Right of Way?

Technically, the answer to who has the right of way between bicycles and cars is no one, and it depends. Bicycle riders actually have the same privileges and responsibilities as motorists under California law. This means that bikes must yield the right of way under the same conditions as motor vehicles. When two vehicles (including bicycles) approach an intersection that isn’t controlled by a traffic signal, the vehicle that arrived first has the right of way. When multiple vehicles arrive at an uncontrolled intersection, the vehicle (including a bicycle) to the right has the right of way. 

Similar to motorists, bicyclists can also be financially liable if they are at fault for an accident. For example, if a bicycle rider fails to yield the right of way to a car that arrives at an uncontrolled intersection first and causes an accident, they can be held responsible for damages. If the bicyclist has auto insurance, their policy may cover the accident. However, cyclists are not required to carry liability insurance. In that case, the driver will have to pursue a personal injury lawsuit against the rider. 

Right of Way in a Bike Lane

Motorists must yield to cyclists riding in a bike lane. This means that before a motorist can cross or enter a bike lane, they have to yield to the right of way to a cyclist in the bike lane. This comes up most often when a driver wants to make a right turn and moves over from the traffic lane into the bike lane.

The Right of Way Issue

The false belief that bicyclists have the right of way often leads to particularly dangerous behavior by cyclists. For example, running stop signs or failing to use arm turn signals that tell drivers where they are going. However, some drivers also fail to share the road, look for cyclists before changing lanes, or respect their rights. Because bicycles can easily be concealed in traffic, motorists must always stay alert for bicyclists before merging into a bike lane, making a turn, or opening their driver’s side door. 

Bicycles, Cars, and Pedestrians

Under California law, all vehicles (including bicycles) must yield the right of way to pedestrians walking on marked crosswalks or unmarked crosswalks at intersections. However, pedestrians are required to yield to bikes and cars if they are not crossing at a marked crosswalk or an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection. 

How Can a Right of Way Accident Be Avoided?

If both bicyclists and motorists remain attentive, act predictably, and indicate intentions, right of way accidents can be prevented. When approaching uncontrolled intersections, both drivers and bicyclists should use turn signals to indicate their next move. Drivers are much more likely to see a bicyclist who is using arm turn signals. Since being visible is crucial, bicyclists should also wear brightly colored and reflective clothing.