California Bicycle Accidents in Car Lanes on Narrow Roads

If cars didn’t have to pass cyclists, then undoubtedly there would be fewer cyclist injuries and deaths. In California, a bicycle has all the rights as a car and can drive in any lane a car can. But here’s the catch, if a bike traveling slower than the flow of traffic, then the cyclists must move to the far right-hand side of the lane to allow motorists to pass.

But the catch has exceptions, and one of them is if the road is narrow, then the cyclist can move back to the middle of the lane and the car driver just has to deal with it.

California Bike Rules of the Road

So here’s how the law works:

California Vehicle Code 21200 allows the cyclist to ride in the street the same as any vehicle. CVC 21202 says that a cyclist moving slower than the normal flow of traffic must either use a bike lane if one exists or use the far right-hand side of the lane.

This means that on a typical California downtown city street, if the cyclist can keep up with traffic, he or she can ride with traffic the same as a car and does not have to move to the right-hand side to let the cars go by or ride in the bike lane (if there is one).

Narrow Lanes Exception

The same law (21202) also exempts the cyclist from having to move over to the far right-hand side of lane where the lane is a “substandard width lane.” So, what does this mean? Well the definition is a bit vague. It says, “a ‘substandard width lane’ is a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.”

I guess it would have been nice for the lawmakers to define how wide a substandard lane is, but then how may cyclists have a measuring tape handy, right?

So why the exception? The obvious answer is safety. CVC 21760 (Three Feet for Safety Act) requires that when a motorist passes a cyclist on the road, there must be three feet between the car and the cyclist. This is the width many safety experts have said gives enough space to allow the car to pass the cyclist without endangering them.

So obviously in a substandard lane, there’s not enough room for a bike, a car and three feet of safety. So, then the cyclist can take their portion of the road, right out of the middle of the lane even when the flow of traffic is faster than the cyclist is going.

Taking the Middle Road is Safer for Everyone

This is actually safer for everyone. If the cyclist stays to the right in a narrow lane, then the cars have to squeeze by using the far left-hand side of the lane. This puts them closer to the centerline on a narrow road.

The cyclist is endangered and so is the driver of the car along with any car traveling in the oncoming lane. It may be a bit annoying for the driver of the car to wait for the “slower” cyclist, but that’s better than risking the lives of all concerned.

Talk to A Bicycle Law Attorney Today

If you’ve been injured while riding on a narrow lane, or in any accident involving a bicycle and a motor vehicle, contact Bay Area Bicycle Law. We are the only personal injury law firm in northern California that deals exclusively with bicycle law.


Please be aware that these case results do not constitute a guarantee, warranty, or prediction regarding the outcome of your legal matter. Every case is different and case values turn on small facts and differences. Thus, the results achieved on one case do not necessarily mean the attorney will achieve the same result, or a similar result, even for a case which may have some similarities.