After January 1, 2019, when a cyclist riding on a bike path collides with another cyclist or a pedestrian and then flees, police can charge the person with a felony hit-and-run. This law cleared up an ambiguity regarding some circumstances where a bike is involved in an accident. California’s hit-and-run already included bicycles riding in traffic, however it didn’t cover class I bike paths.
California Bike Lane Classes
California law designates four classes of bike lanes that are used in the state:
- A class I bike path: Also called a shared-use path—because it shares the path with scooters and pedestrians—is a right-of-way path that is away from traffic lanes and is marked and designated a bike path.
- A class II bike path: Bike lanes established along streets and defined by pavement striping and signage to delineate a portion of a roadway for bicycle travel.
- A class III bike path: Areas designated for bikes along the roadways but typically are not separated by lines but are marked with signage on the streets or posted near the bike path.
- Class IV bike path: Also called protected bike lanes, are lanes that are physically separated by a barrier or raised surface thus keeping other vehicle traffic from entering the lane.
California has long had a law that applied the state’s vehicle laws to bicycles riding in traffic, however, since class I lanes do not travel along the roadways, the law didn’t apply to them. This meant that when a cyclist was traveling out on the roadway along with traffic and not in a class I bike lane and hit a pedestrian or another bicycle, then it had to stop because the law requires drivers of cars to stop.
However, if a cyclist hit a pedestrian or other cyclist on a class I path, then the cyclist could take off without fear of being charged with a crime. This law was enacted in response to an incident that happened to a pedestrian in 2015 who was struck by a cyclist and landed head-first onto the pavement. He suffered a fractured skull, concussion, and severe lacerations on his hands.
The cyclist left the scene and was found by police later but was not arrested or charged because he hadn’t broken any laws. Ironically, since that incident took place on a levee and not a class I bike path, it would not have been covered under the new law.