The following has lots that you probably
already know. However, you may wish to check it to refresh yourself. And
if you're from outside California, the laws here may be different from
where you come from. You can click on any topic to move right to it. What's
here will help you have greater, safer rides!
On streets and roads, motorists follow traffic rules.
Traffic flows smoothly because drivers can predict what others will do.
A collision happens when someone breaks the rules or does something unexpected.
Act like a vehicle. When you're on a bike in the middle of all those cars,
it's easy to defy traffic rules because you can maneuver better, and almost
no one will stop you. This is how most bicyclists get into collisions.
When you break traffic laws motorists never know what you'll do next, so
they're not sure how to avoid you. But if you act like a vehicle—signaling
turns, turning from the correct lanes, and stopping at red lights and stop
signs—drivers can predict what you'll do.
Ride predictably. Being
predictable is the key to safe bicycling on our streets. And if you follow
traffic rules, motorists will come to respect bicyclists as drivers of
is what California laws say we are.
Ride legally. You have to know and
obey all of the traffic signals, signs and pavement markings.
way. As a bicyclist, you must yield the right of way in the same situations
that motorists do. If you don't know when to yield to pedestrians and other
vehicles, read the California Drivers Handbook.
in Santa Barbara county prohibit riding on a sidewalks unless they explicitely
say you can. If you need to use a sidewalk, just walk your bike.
avoid. It's against the law to ride your bike on Highway 101 where
signs prohibit entry. It's also illegal to ride the wrong way on one-way
streets, or against traffic on two-way streets.
What police might do. If
your break a traffic law, an officer might stop and warn you or possibly
give you a traffic ticket. What happens when police stop you for the wrong
reason? If polite persuasion doesn't work and you know the California
Vehicle Code, make your case in court.
Watch behind you. To bike in
traffic you must know how to look back over your shoulder while riding.
This simple act helps you move left, avoid hazards, change lanes, or make
a turn. And looking over your shoulder makes drivers pay attention to you.
Although mirrors attached to the handlebars provide a limited view on one
side behind you, there are small ones that attach to either your helmet
or eyeglasses. They weigh less, they have less image jiggle than handlebar
mirrors, and by simply turning your head a little, you can quickly scan
for conditions behind you. Their disadvantage is that drivers approaching
from your rear don't know that you know they're there. A quick glance back
tells them that you're aware of them.
Where to look. As you ride you have
to avoid two kinds of things. hazards on the ground right in front of you,
and cars and pedestrians ahead and on either side. So you should always
know how both the ground and the traffic around you look. To do this, get
into the habit of looking first at the ground 20 feet in front of you,
then up at traffic, then back down at the ground.
Ready for a brake. Always
keep your hands near or over your brake levers—so
you can stop fast in a pinch. When you brake, squeeze the front and back
brakes at the same time. If you see a dangerous situation coming up, like
a car backing out, glance behind you and get ready to brake or swerve if
you have to.
Communicate. Bikes are smaller, slower, more agile and quieter
than most other vehicles. So you should make drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians
notice you, and communicate with them. And since a lot of bicyclists don't
follow traffic laws, drivers don't always know what you'll do—even
if you think it's obvious. Here are some ways to communicate.
signals. Whenever you change lanes or turn, signal with your arm. If
you are about to move in an unexpected way—like around a bunch of
glass—point over to the part of the road you're moving to. California
law says you must signal 100 feet before making a turn—tricky if
you're also shifting and braking. Try to put your arm out in between the
other things you're doing, but not if you'll lose control.
you're waiting for a car to pass you before you cross an intersection or
change lanes, the driver might not realize you're yielding. Wave at the
driver to go ahead. Also, when drivers yield to you—even when they're
a good idea to thank them by waving and smiling.
Assume you're invisible.
In some situations—like a car turning in front of you—it's
a wise to pretend the driver doesn't see you. Plan in advance how you'll
avoid that driver. Can you stop in time? If not, slow down and figure how
you'll steer out of the way.
Does the driver see you? Watch for the car
to move slower than it would if you weren't there. Look at where the driver's
eyes are. If they're not looking at you, slow down and be ready to get
out of the way. Make Noise. Just as a car honks its horn when it comes
out of an alley, you should make noise when you emerge from places where
people can't see you—like when you ride between two stopped trucks
to get into an intersection. Yell or use a whistle, bell, or horn.
Lane Positions, Turning, and Passing
Traffic law says that slower vehicles should
stay to the right. But where exactly should bicycles ride? Here are some
Never ride against traffic. If you feel safer riding against traffic,
you're wrong. one out of five car-bike collisions results from cyclists
going the wrong way. Drivers moving down a street—and drivers turning
onto the street—don't
look for vehicles coming at them in their lane. And if they hit you, it'll
be a much harder head-on than from behind.
When to stay right. Stay right
if you're moving slowly compared to traffic, but remember. the farther
from the curb you ride, the better motorists can see you—whether
they're in your lane, oncoming, or on cross streets. Riding closer to traffic
keeps cars from passing you on the left and then turning right immediately
in front or you.
When to ride in the middle. It's safest to ride in the
middle of the lane when you're moving at the speed of traffic, the lane's
too small for cars to pass you safely, or you're avoiding potholes or the
doors of parked cars. If you're riding in the middle and traffic starts
to move faster than you can, move toward the curb if there's room. Some
Bike lanes. You can ride in the middle of marked bike lanes.
But when you find parked or moving vehicles in these lanes, signal and
move out of the lane.
Dangerous areas. If you come to a dangerous area—like
a bend in the road that you can't see beyond—ride in the middle of
the lane to be more visible.
Roundabouts. Traffic roundabouts are designed
for our safety with no bikelanes within them. Take the traffic lane so
exiting motorists won't guess wrong and cut you off.
Parked cars. Don't
weave in and out of parked cars, because you'll confuse drivers; ride in
a straight line. Ride at least four feet away so you don't get hit if someone
opens their door. And if a car door starts to open into you, yell and brake;
swerve out of the way only if you have enough room.
Riding with others.
Be extremely careful when you ride side-by-side with other cyclists. It's
best to never have more than two riders side-by-side when riding in traffic.
If you ride next to someone, don't block motorists or other bicyclists
that want to pass you. When another cyclist turns or changes lanes, don't
assume it's safe for you to go too. Always look behind you before you make
a move. When you're with a group stopped at a light, line up single file
so you don't block or slow other vehicles.
Blind spots. To be safe, know
where drivers’ blind
spots are—and stay out of them! This is especially important when
you're approaching an intersection because drivers can turn right into
you if they don't see you.
Following distance. Don't follow a vehicle so
closely that you can't see potholes or other pavement problems until you're
on top of them. If you're following a large vehicle—like a van, truck,
follow so closely that it blocks your field of view. Also, big vehicles
coming at you can hide other cars. Slow down or don't proceed until they
get out of your line of sight.
Intersections. Almost half of urban car-bike
collisions happen at intersections. This section tells you the safest places
to put yourself when you reach an intersection, whether you're turning
or going straight.
Go straight. When you're about to cross an intersection,
don't veer to the left or right. Try to move in the straightest possible
line to where you'll ride on the other side.
Don't block crosswalks. It's
dangerous and illegal to make pedestrians cross farther into the intersection.
lanes before a turn. When you're turning left on a multi-lane street
where traffic isn't much faster than you, merge left one lane at a time.
Where traffic moves much faster, drivers won't have time to react to you—so
it's safest to wait for a gap in traffic and move across all the lanes
at once. Turning Left from a Left-turn Lane. Follow these steps for making
left turns just like cars do. From the right side of the street, look behind
you for a gap in traffic. Start looking a half-block or more before the
intersection. When traffic allows, signal left and change lanes. If you
can't find a gap and you're sure of your skills, get a driver to let you
in by making eye contact and pointing. Don't change lanes until you're
sure the driver will yield! Go to the middle of the left-turn lane. If
there's a car already waiting to turn left, get behind it. Never put yourself
next to a car in the same lane. Don't be afraid of oncoming cars that are
stopped facing you, waiting to turn left. Turn just like a car does. After
the turn, move into the right side of the road—unless another vehicle
is there or you're making another left turn immediately.
Turning left with
no left-turn lane. If there's no turn lane, ride about four feet from
the center stripe—far enough out
so a left-turning car behind you can't pass until you've finished the turn.
If a car's stopped at the intersection and you can't tell whether it's
going to turn left, don't try to pass it on the left. Stay behind it until
it gets through the intersection.
One-way street turns. When turning left
from one one-way street to another, you can turn into the left or right
side of the street. In this case, California law allows left turn on red—you
can make a left turn after stopping at a red light and yielding to vehicles
on the cross street.
The box left turn. Use the box left turn if you can't
merge left before you reach the intersection. Here's how. Stay in the right
lane and ride across the intersection on the left side of (not in) the
crosswalk. Just before the opposite corner, check whether there's room
for you in the traffic lane to the right of the crosswalk, behind the stop
line. If there is, go there and align yourself with traffic. If there's
no room behind the stop line, stop on the intersection side of the crosswalk
and align yourself with traffic. When the traffic light changes, move with
Stop signs and turns on red. At a stop sign or right turn on red,
the law says you must stop—not just slow down. Remember to act like
a vehicle. If you're at a stop sign and a vehicle on the cross street got
there first, let it go through first. If you're turning on red, yield to
any vehicles coming at you in your lane.
Don't veer to the curb. Don't
veer into the right-turn lane as you go through the intersection. You're
easier to see if you stay away from the curb. And you won't have to move
back over when you get across the intersection.
Cars stopped in both lanes.
When cars are stopped in the left and right lanes, it's safest to stop
in the middle of the right lane. But if the right-lane car is turning right
and you're sure of your traffic skills, stop on the left side of the right
lane. Stop where drivers in both lanes can see you.
Right on red allowed.
If you're going straight at a red light where right turn on red is allowed,
stop on the left side of the right lane—leaving enough room for right-turning
cars. If a car's stopped in the left lane, stop where drivers in both lanes
can see you.
Three-way intersection. At a red light in a three-way intersection,
stop on the street you're traveling on. Don't cross the diagonal street
to wait on the next corner, because you'll confuse drivers about which
way you're really going.
Passing cars. Pass moving cars on the left when you can. That's
where motorists expect you to pass, so that's where they look. If a vehicle
is about to turn, don't pass it on the side it's turning toward. When you
pass a stopped car, watch out for the driver or a passenger opening their
door. Pass four feet from the car, or pass on the side with no passengers.
If you're passing a car and it speeds up, stay in your
lane and slow down. After the car passes you, look back, signal, then merge
back behind the car.
Squeezing between cars. Say you're in a traffic jam
with cars backed up for a block, it's safest (and legal) to get into
line with the cars and wait it out. But if you do squeeze between the cars
to get through, watch for opening car doors on the left or right. Keep
your hands on your brake levers. When pedestrians cross the street in the
middle of a traffic jam, the last thing they expect is you zooming down
on them between the cars. Watch out for pedestrians, especially when passing
trucks or buses. If a space opens up in the traffic jam—and
you're near a driveway or cross street—watch for a car from the opposite
direction turning into your path.
Passing buses. When you come to a bus that's
nearing or stopped at a bus stop, don't pass on the right. You might get
squeezed into the curb or hit a passenger. When you pass on the left of
a bus with its rear stuck out in traffic, look around carefully. And pass
the front of the bus with plenty of room in case it pulls out suddenly,
or a passenger crosses the street in front of it.
Highway exit ramps. When
an exit ramp merges from the right, first look over your right shoulder
to see what's coming. If a lot of cars are merging, stay straight so they
pass before you on the right. As you move farther, they'll pass behind
you on the left. If there's a break in the merging traffic, move to the
right as soon as you can.
Passing cyclists. Cyclists can swerve faster
than cars—so when
you pass a bicycle, pass at least three feet away on the bicycle's left
(not the right). Always shout "passing on your left" before you
pass so nobody's surprised.
Emergency slow-down. When you stop fast, your weight
shifts from your back wheel to the front. Even if you use both your front
and back brakes, your back tire can skid and start to lift. To slow down
quickly, push yourself as far back on the bike as you can. This keeps weight
on the back tire. Put your head and torso as low as you can so you don't
flip. Squeeze both brakes. If the back tire starts to slide or lift, ease
up on the front brake.
How To fall. Most serious bicycle injuries involve
brain damage, so the best way to protect yourself in a fall is by wearing
a helmet. Otherwise, it's not easy to prepare for a fall. But if you have
time to think when you're about to hit a car, don't try to wipe out first.
instead, stay upright as long as you can. If you get low you risk going
under the wheels or hitting the sharpest parts of the car. If you go flying,
tuck your head, arms, and legs into a tight ball and try to roll when you
hit the ground. If you stick your arms out you're likely to break them,
or your collarbone, or both.
Dogs. Here are some of your options when a
dog chases you. Just stop. Some dogs just want a good chase and will give
up when you're not moving. Stop and quickly get off your bike. If the
beast looks like it wants to attack, try to keep the bike between you and
it. Shout something commanding, like "Go home!" Try to outrun it. This
might be a good idea if there's more than one dog. Don't try to outrun
it if you're not sure you can; too many cyclists have wiped out when running
dogs jam their front wheels. If you go for it, try a squirt with your water
bottle to slow it down. Don't try to hit the dog; you may lose your balance.
Use a dog-repellent spray, but be careful because the wind could blow the stuff
back into your face. If a dog bites you, get to a doctor or hospital right
away for a rabies test. If you know where the dog lives, tell the police
so they can check with the owners.
Pedestrians. The law says you should
yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. This can sometimes test your patience,
where some people cross against the traffic light when they see no cars
coming. So what happens when you're zooming down the street, come to a
green light, and find a dozen people scurrying through the crosswalk? Warn
them by shouting or using a bell, whistle, or horn. Remember. pedestrians
look for cars, not bikes. If there's still a crowd in the crosswalk, or
pedestrians freeze, you should slow down or stop. If you don't stop, when
you're close enough for the pedestrians to see you clearly, go carefully
between them. Try not to go between parents and their kids. Be patient
with slow-moving seniors, young children or handicapped individuals who
have not yet cleared the street when your light turns green.
Some railroad tracks cross streets diagonally. If you go over these tracks
without changing your direction, your tire might get caught between a track
and the road. Instead, try to cross tracks at a right angle—especially
when the street's wet.
Gravel and sand. When you bike over gravel or sand,
don't turn suddenly or use your brakes; you might wipe out.
Conflicts With Motorists
Mean motorists. Some motorists are aggresive
toward bicyclists. Some cut you off or curse you because they don't understand
you're operating a vehicle just like them. What should you do? Don't start
a fight. As long as you and your bike aren't damaged, don't start a fight—no
matter how steamed you get. If you lose your cool, the motorist might decide
to nail the next bicyclist who goes by. Or, worse, the motorist might decide
to smash you with two tons of metal and glass—and speed off before
you can even start to say license plate.
Report harassment. Motorists who
touch you or put you in danger might be guilty of assault and should be
reported to the police. Stop and write down everything you can remember.
the license plate number, type of car, and where and when it happened.
Then call the police. Take the long view. If more cyclists follow traffic
laws, more motorists will start to see bicycles as vehicles. You can help.
If a motorist questions what you're doing but isn't hostile, explain what
you've learned here.
Traffic collision. If you're hurt in a traffic collision,
don't ride away or shake off what seems like a minor injury—you might
find later that it's worse than you thought. If you're a victim of or a
witness to a traffic collision, call 911 for
the police. If needed, get medical help immediately. If you're injured,
don't move unless you're sure you won't injure yourself more. Don't get
mad at the scene. Keep a level head so you can ask questions and take notes.
Get the following information from every vehicle. driver name, address,
phone number, driver's license number, license plate number, make of car,
insurance company name and policy number. Get the names and phone numbers
of witnesses. Get the police report number from police on the scene. Write
down how the accident happened. Keep (or photograph) any damaged clothes
or equipment. It should be apparent from the above to always carry pencil
and paper, a cell phone (preferably one with a camera), plus some identification
about you that lists an emergency contact and your medical conditions that
specialists might need.
Where can you bicycle away
from the streets? On park pathways, designated bike paths, and unpaved
trails. Despite the pleasant setting, bicycle collisions happen almost
three times as often on paths as on streets. Here are some tips for safer
Unless there are arrows to direct them, people on paved paths don't know
which side to travel on and when to yield. So the most important rule for
everyone is to act courteously. When in doubt, give the other person a break.
predictably on paths. Ride straight and at a steady speed so people
can stay out of your way. Always look back before passing or turning. And
use hand signals and make noise by shouting or using a bell, horn, or whistle. Maintain
a controllable speed.
to pass? Slower path traffic should stay right, except to pass—just
like traffic on the street. And you usually should pass others on the left.
When there's not enough room on the left, pass on the right. Always signal
so people behind you know which side you'll pass on.
Ring your bell or shout "passing on your left" or "passing
on your right" before
you pass another biker, hiker, or equestrian. If you shout at people
jogging or hiking, some will freak out and jump in front of you. So if
they're walking in a straight, predictable line, you can pass them without
pass them with as much distance as you can. Or you can slow to their speed,
and say "bicycle passing on your left" and wait for them to move
aside. On trails, use a bike bell to let others know of your approach. When
encountering an equestrian, stop or move very slowly, talk to the rider,
ask what is the best way to pass.
When to Yield. When you
enter a path, or you're on a path that crosses a street or another path,
always be ready to slow down and yield to cross traffic. If cross traffic
has a stop or yield sign, they should yield to you. If there are no signs,
you should yield to the person who reaches the intersection first. Yield
to anyone who looks like they won't slow down for you. If there's no room
to pass yield to people in front of you who are moving slower than you. On
trails, bikers must yield to all other trail users. Uphill travel has
Don't block the path. Don't stop on a path or trail. Instead, move
to the side to stop.
Santa Barbara's Beachway. Many people use the city's
oceanfront bike path. They walk, run, skate, dance and just stand looking
at the views. This means that you—a
bicyclist sharing the path with others—often have to slow down or
stop. If you’re in a
hurry, choose a different route.
Be kind to our trails. Respect all trail closures. Avoid
wet and muddy trails because they are very vulnerable to damage. Keep riding
groups small, fewer than 10 at a time. Use riding techniques that minimize
your impact to trails. Pick up and pack out at least as much trash as
you bring in. Volunteer for trail maintenance events so you and others will
have more trails to ride.
Riding At Night
Attract attention. Increase
visability with a safety vest or reflective clothing. Always wear some
light-colored material, especially on your upper body. Flashing rear LED
lights are cheap and can be highly visable, but by themselves do not meet
red reflectors do. Wear reflective ankle straps, they attract because they're
Defensive moves. At night you can't see where drivers
are looking, and some are under the infuence of alcohol or drugs. Slow
down from your daylight speed. And watch cars closely; be ready to get
out of their way.
White front light. It must light the road and be
visible from 300 feet. Battery-powered is better than a generator light.
Get the brightest one you can afford. If you ride at night a lot, use rechargeable
save money. In a pinch, attach a flashlight with duct tape or bungee cord
to your handlebar.
Red rear reflector. It must be visible from 500
feet in normal headlights. Get a red one at least three inches wide. Make
sure it's pointed straight back and not up or down.
White or yellow pedal
reflectors. They must be visible from the front and rear of the bicycle
from a distance of 200 feet. Because they move when you pedal, they attract
more driver attention than fixed reflectors.
Wheel reflectors. White
or yellow reflectors are required on the bike front, visible on each side.
White or red reflectors must be on the bike rear, visible from each side.
Usually attached to wheel spokes. A reflective wheel is also legal.
Riding in Winter
We get little rain or cold in Santa Barbara County, but
you'll still want to be ready on winter days. Days can be wet or cold or
Start of rain. Don't race to beat the rain after
it starts. That's when streets are slickest because automotive oil on the
road spreads before it washes away. Slow way down on turns and don't lean
Wet streets. It's easy to slip when surfaces are
wet. Watch out for metal-grate bridges, temporary construction covers,
manhole covers, painted pavement, thermal plastic road markings and leaves.
Don't turn or brake on them. On metal bridges, if you have thin or smooth
tires don't ride across; put both feet on the road and scooter across,
or walk your bike on the sidewalk.
Puddles. Don't ride through a puddle
if you can't see the bottom. It could be a deep pothole that'll throw you.
Vision. Remember that in rain, motorists and cyclists can't see as
well. And it takes longer for us all to stop. Just go slower.
brake pads and wheel rims are wet, they take up to ten times longer to
work. Dry them by applying your brakes far ahead of where you want to slow
down, causing your pads to wipe the
rims. To dry them faster, pump the brakes by applying them lightly, then
letting go, over and over.
Clothing for wet weather. If your clothes keep
out rain they might also seal your sweat in. To vent perspiration, wear
a jacket or poncho or rain cape that lets air in from the bottom, back,
or sides. Or buy a wicking jacket that keeps rain out, but allows perspiration
vapor to escape. Wear light, bright colors—yellow,
orange, lime green, or pink. A baseball cap under your helmet will keep
rain out of your eyes. Wear synthetic or wool socks. Use gloves with a
water resistant shell or a waterproof liner.
Your bike in rain. Grime builds
up on brake pads, making them squeak or scratch your rims. Run a rag between
each pad and the rim, like shining a shoe. Brake pads grip aluminum rims
better than they do steel. After biking in the rain, bring your bike indoors
so bearings can dry. Install fenders to keep you dry on wet pavement. Plastic
ones are cheap and light, but can crack if installed wrong. Fat tires have
better traction. Tires less than 30mm wide work better on wet streets when
Clothing for cold weather. You don't need a whole
new set of clothes, just layer what you have. Wear a sweatshirt or jacket
and add t-shirts, light sweaters, and tights or long johns in layers as
weather gets colder. By wearing light layers you can also remove outer
clothes if you warm up while cycling. The layer closest to your skin should
be a wicking material that will let sweat pass through as you ride.
California Driver's Handbook. This is a 100-page booklet
in PDF format containing more than you wish to know. Download it here.
California Vehicle Code for bicyclists. The Vehicle
Code is large, however only a small section pertains to what we're required