Bicycle Safety Rules of the Road from the NHTSA

Bicycle accidents kill about 850 people every year. Bike injuries and deaths are on the rise. As more people use bikes for environmentally friendly commuting and recreation, the rate of bike accidents has increased.

But you can reduce your risk of a bike accident. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) publishes safety tips to help cyclists avoid situations that lead to bicycle accidents. California has many laws designed to help cyclists and drivers share the roads safely.

Here are some bicycle safety rules of the road for California cyclists.

Road Rules for Cyclists

Under California law, bicyclists must follow the same traffic laws as automobiles. This allows drivers to anticipate what cyclists will do in traffic and vice versa. 

Some of the road rules you can follow to reduce your risk of accidents include:

Ride Carefully at Night

According to the NHTSA, between 20% and 25% of bicycle accidents happen between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. As a result, the NHTSA recommends that cyclists avoid riding at night.

Not all cyclists can avoid night rides. In California, your bike must have white front reflectors and red rear reflectors for visibility after dark. Your pedals and wheels must also have white or yellow reflectors. You must have a white light mounted on the bike or your body that drivers can see from 300 feet.

Follow Traffic Laws

Cities and suburbs have nearly four times as many bike accidents as rural areas. This happens because of heavier automobile traffic.

When you ride in the city or suburbs, the NHTSA recommends that you ride predictably, rather than weaving in and out of traffic. This means going with the flow of traffic and staying to the right. 

Under California law, bikes must stay to the far right or in a bike lane except when passing another bike or making a left turn.

Riding predictably also means signaling when you intend to turn and obeying all traffic signs. California does not excuse cyclists from stopping at stop signs and traffic signals. You must also yield to pedestrians in marked crosswalks.

Remain Alert

Distracted biking can lead to a bicycle accident. You should remain alert to possible road and traffic hazards at all times while biking. 

Under California law, you cannot wear earphones in both ears while biking. The NHTSA recommends that bikers avoid the use of personal electronics altogether.

Many accidents happen when bikers lose control over their bikes. You should watch for potholes, railroad tracks, and other road hazards that can cause you to fall or turn suddenly.

You should always signal before turning and remain alert for drivers who might not see you during turns. You should also ride carefully when passing parked cars. Drivers do not always watch for cyclists before opening doors or pulling out from parking spaces.

The NHTSA reports that 60% of bike accidents happen on roadways and 29% happen in intersections. Minimizing your use of shared traffic lanes can reduce your risk of a bike accident. 

In California, bike paths and bike lanes are separated from motor vehicle traffic. This makes them much safer than bike routes in which bikes and automobiles share the same lanes.

Use Safety Equipment

Bicycle helmets work. Studies show that helmets reduce the risk of head injury by 48%. When head injuries do happen, they are less severe. Riders wearing helmets have a 60% lower risk of severe head injury and a 53% lower risk of traumatic brain injury than riders without helmets.

In California, riders under the age of 18 must wear a helmet. The law does not require riders 18 and older to wear a helmet, but the NHTSA recommends that all riders wear one.

The NHTSA also recommends checking your bicycle before every ride. Brakes, handlebars, and tires can cause you to crash if they malfunction during a ride. In California, police can cite you for having non-functional brakes or ape-hanger handlebars on your bicycle.

Ride Safely

California requires all bikers, including those on delivery bikes, to stow cargo so they can keep at least one hand on the handlebars at all times. The NHTSA recommends that all bikers use a basket or backpack to carry items rather than carrying them in their hands.

The NHTSA’s data shows that 37% of bicyclists killed in 2018 were intoxicated. Drinking alcohol and using drugs before biking can affect your ability to ride safely by:

  • Slowing your reflexes
  • Clouding your judgment
  • Making you drowsy
  • Altering your perception of speeds and distances

California prohibits drinking and biking, also called cycling under the influence (CUI). California cyclists violate the law by operating a bicycle while intoxicated to the point that their ability to drive safely is impaired.

CUI is different from DUI in three ways:

  • Police officers cannot require you to take a breathalyzer when they stop you for CUI
  • The law does not set a blood-alcohol content limit for an automatic CUI
  • A CUI citation will require a fine, but no jail time

Although the law does not punish CUI as harshly as DUI, you can still die or receive serious injuries by cycling while drunk or high. The NHTSA recommends that you never bike after drinking or using drugs.

Operating a bike safely could save your life. It could help you avoid serious injuries that could require years of treatment and therapy or even disable you for life.

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