Motor Vehicle Laws Applicable to Bicycle Riders in California
Vehicle Code 21200

California Vehicle Code 21200 VC is the California code section that imposes on bike riders to the same duties and responsibilities as motor vehicle drivers.

For example, under Vehicle Code 21200, bicyclists must perform such acts as:

  • follow traffic signals, obey speed limits,
  • stop at stop signs, and
  • bike on the right-hand side of the road.

There are four important points to know about VC 21200.

  • A bicyclist that violates Vehicle Code 21200 must pay a fine.
  • Depending on the facts of a case, a person that violates VC 21200 may also receive one point on his DMV driving record. A driver could potentially get a negligent operator license suspension if he receives a certain number of points in a given amount of time (e.g., 4 points in 12 months, 6 points in 24 months or 8 points in 36 months).
  • Legal defenses are available to bicyclists that violate Vehicle Code 21200 VC. It's in the biker's best interests, though, to consult with an attorney before raising one.
  • Persons cannot ignore a California ticket for violating VC 21200. If he does, the biker risks getting charged with failure to appear, per California Vehicle Code 40508. Failure to appear, under California law, may be charged as a misdemeanor.

Our California personal injury attorneys will highlight the following in this article:

california bicycle traffic laws riding through streets
California Vehicle Code 21200 VC is the California code section that imposes on bike riders to the same duties and responsibilities as motor vehicle drivers.

1. Vehicle Code 21200 VC – California's vehicle laws applicable to bicycle riders

California Vehicle Code 21200(a) states that bicycle riders have all the rights and are subject to all the responsibilities and duties as drivers of vehicles.1 This means, for example, bicyclists must perform such actions as:

  • Follow traffic signals
  • Obey speed limits
  • Stop at stop signs
  • Bike on the right-hand side of the road

VC 21200 (b) applies to police officers operating a bicycle during their normal course of business. The section exempts these officers from following general vehicle laws if the officer is:

  • Responding to an emergency call
  • Engaged in rescue operations
  • Pursuing an actual or suspected violator of the law2

2. The penalties for violating Vehicle Code 21200

VC 21200 essentially imposes upon bicyclists the same safety duties that are imposed on vehicle drivers. Since penalties may change depending on which duty is not upheld, the specific hardships for violating VC 21200 will vary.

However, in general, most penalties will include:

  1. A fine; and possibly,
  2. Points on the offender's DMV driving record.

2.1. Fine

A biker that violates a duty imposed on vehicle drivers will receive a ticket for doing so and must pay a corresponding fine.

The exact cost of the fine will change depending on which specific vehicle law is violated. Costs can grow as high as several hundreds of dollars.3

2.2. Points on the bicyclist's DMV driving record

Persons that violate Vehicle Code 21200 could also receive points on their DMV driving record.4 Points put on a person's record are ultimately reported to his insurance carrier. The result is typically an increase in the person's insurance rates for several years.

A problem also occurs when points accumulate over time. If a person in California receives 4 points in 12 months, 6 points in 24 months, or 8 points in 36 months, the DMV can either suspend or revoke his driving privileges.

Please note, however, that either of these actions will require a California DMV hearing.

california bicycle law legal defense attorneys
A bicyclist charged with violating VC 21200 does not have to automatically plead guilty, or admit he was at fault. The person can always challenge a traffic ticket by raising a legal defense

3. Legal defenses if a biker violates Vehicle Code 21200

A bicyclist charged with violating VC 21200 does not have to automatically plead guilty, or admit he was at fault. The person can always challenge a traffic ticket by raising a legal defense. But, if this is done, it's best for the bicyclist to contact an experienced attorney for help.

3.1. Common defenses if accused of violating VC 21200

Every case will have different underlying facts and circumstances. This means defenses will change depending on the facts involved. However, two common defenses include:

  1. There was an emergency that forced the bicyclist to disobey the law; and,
  2. The officer made a mistake.

Please note that no matter the exact defense raised, it has to be supported with credible evidence. The best evidence typically includes:

  • Witnesses
  • Photographs
  • Surveillance video

3.2. Contact an experienced lawyer for help

Bicyclists can represent themselves if they challenge a VC 21200 ticket. However, it's in the person's best interests to contact a skilled California defense attorney for help.

It's beneficial to work with a lawyer for three main reasons. These are:

  1. Prosecutors typically offer better deals to defendants with lawyers.
  2. Defense attorneys know how to get charges reduced and dismissed.
  3. If a defendant has an attorney, the defendant does not have to go to court. The defendant's lawyer can go on his behalf.

4. Violation of Vehicle Code 21200 VC and traffic school

Bicyclists that violate VC 21200 do not have to attend traffic school. But, they can volunteer to do so.

A person can choose to go to traffic school provided that:

  1. The person has a valid driver's license;
  2. The offense occurred while the person was driving a noncommercial vehicle; and,
  3. The ticket is for an infraction that is a moving violation.

If a bicyclist chooses to attend traffic school, he must still pay his fine for violating VC 21200.5 However, the person generally should not get any points on his driving record if he completes the school.6

5. Bikers violating Vehicle Code 21200 and criminal charges

In general, criminal charges do not get filed if a person violates Vehicle Code 21200 VC. This is because it's typically not a crime if a bicyclist disobeys a law imposed on vehicle drivers.

Violations of VC 21200 are most often infractions under California law. Violators are not subject to incarceration or any other criminal penalties.

police giving bicyclist a ticket. california bicycle traffic legal defense
Bicyclists cannot ignore a ticket for violating Vehicle Code 21200 VC.

6. Ignoring a ticket for violating VC 21200

Bicyclists cannot ignore a ticket for violating Vehicle Code 21200 VC. Two things happen if this occurs. These are:

  1. The biker violates a new law, California Vehicle Code 40508 VC, for the failure to appear in court on a traffic citation; and,
  2. The biker may receive penalties for violating VC 40508.

6.1. Violation of Vehicle Code 40508 VC

Upon receiving a traffic ticket in California, the offender is obligated to sign a written promise to appear in court. The person promises to appear on a specific day at a specific time (unless the person is represented by an attorney – see 3.2 above).

If the driver willfully fails to appear as promised, he violates Vehicle Code 40508 VC.7 The driver willfully fails to appear when he is willingly a no-show. It is not a defense if the driver did not intend to break the law.8

It also does not matter whether the offending driver is guilty or innocent of the underlying traffic citation.9 He violates Vehicle Code 40508 just by breaking a promise to:

  • Appear in court,
  • Appear to pay bail,
  • Pay bail in installments,
  • Pay a fine within the time authorized, or
  • Comply with any condition of the court.10

6.2. Penalties for violating VC 40508

Violation of Vehicle Code 40508 VC is a misdemeanor. The penalties are:

  • Up to six months in county jail, and/or
  • A fine of up to $1,000.11

7. Vehicle Code 21200 VC and cycling under the influence

It is commonly known that driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs in California is illegal. However, not many people are aware that cycling or bicycling under the influence (CUI) in California is also against the law.

Vehicle Code 21200 (a) states that bicyclists are:

Subject to … provisions concerning driving under the influence of alcoholic beverages or drugs…12

Further, California Vehicle Code section 21200.5 prohibits riding a bicycle while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both.13

In order to prove that a biker violated VC 21200.5, the prosecution must prove three facts (known as "elements" of the crime) beyond a reasonable doubt. These are:

  1. The accused was riding a bicycle;
  2. The accused was riding the bicycle on a highway; and,
  3. While riding the bike, the accused was under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both.

The punishment for a CUI is a fine of not more than $250 and no jail time.14 3 Further, if a biker is under 21-years-old, a CUI conviction can result in a suspension of his driver's license.15

Although the punishment for a CUI is less burdensome than California's DUI penalties, a CUI is still a misdemeanor and will show up as a conviction (giving you a criminal record).16 It's critical that person's charged with CUI contact a California DUI attorney now.

8. Laws related to Vehicle Code 21200 VC

There are three laws related to VC 21200. These include:

  1. Riding bicycles within bike lanes – Vehicle Code 21208;
  2. Bicyclists riding on the right-hand side of the road – Vehicle Code 21202; and,
  3. Unauthorized vehicles prohibited on trails and paths – Vehicle Code 23127.

8.1. Riding bicycles within bike lanes – Vehicle Code 21208

California Vehicle Code 21208 states that bikers must ride their bicycles within bike lanes whenever they have been established.17

VC 21208 does provide four exceptions to this rule. A bicyclist may leave a bike lane when:

  1. Overtaking and passing another biker, a vehicle, or a pedestrian.
  2. Preparing for a turn at an intersection or into a driveway.
  3. Necessary to avoid a hazardous condition.
  4. Approaching a place where a right turn is authorized.18

A violation of Vehicle Code 21208 results in a fine of $197.00. No points are placed on a biker's DMV driving record.19

8.2. Bicyclists riding on the right-hand side of the road – Vehicle Code 21202

According to Vehicle Code 21202, any person operating a bicycle on a California roadway must ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb of the roadway.20

VC 21202 does provide four exceptions to this rule. A bicyclist can disobey the rule when:

  1. Overtaking and passing another biker.
  2. Preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a driveway.
  3. Necessary to avoid unsafe conditions.
  4. Approaching a place where a right turn is authorized.21

A violation of Vehicle Code 21202 VC results in a fine of $197.00. No points are assessed to the violator's driving record.

8.3. Unauthorized vehicles prohibited on trails and paths – Vehicle Code 23127

Drivers in California are prohibited from driving unauthorized vehicles on trails and paths.

California Vehicle Code 23127 says that no person(s) may drive an "unauthorized vehicle" on any

  • state,
  • county,
  • city,
  • private, or
  • district path/trail that is marked with proper signage.22

The term, "unauthorized vehicle," means any motor vehicle that is driven without the written permission of the owner of the trail or path, or, the owner's agent.23

As to what is proper signage under this section, VC 23127 says that the signs on a trail or path must:

  1. Be located at a path's entrances, exits and at one-mile intervals along the trail/path; and,
  2. Show that no unauthorized vehicles are allowed on the path/trail.24

VC 23127 applies to

  • hiking trails,
  • horseback riding trails, and
  • bike paths.25

Vehicle Code 23127 states:

Any person who violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor.26

A misdemeanor is a criminal charge. In California, a misdemeanor is more serious than an infraction, but less serious than a California felony.

Standard California misdemeanors are punishable by:

  1. Up to six months in jail; and/or,
  2. A fine of up to $1,000.27

Were you accused of violating Vehicle Code 21200 while bicycling in California? Call us for help…

california bicycle law legal experts motor vehicle law
Call us for help at (855) LAW-FIRM

If you or someone you know has been cited for violating VC 21200, or has been injured in an accident in California, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7 at 855-LAWFIRM.

Legal References:

  1. California vehicle code 21200 (a) VC.

  2. California Vehicle Code 21200 (b)(1) VC. See also California Vehicle Code 21200 (b)(1)(A)-(b)(1)(C).

  3. See DMV.org.

  4. See same.

  5. See California Courts website.

  6. See same.

  7. California Vehicle Code 40508 VC.

  8. CALCRIM 2240, endnote 1: Someone commits an act willfully when he or she does it willingly or on purpose. It is not required that he or she intend to break the law, hurt someone else, or gain any advantage.

  9. See same.

  10. California Vehicle Code 40508 VC, endnote 1.

  11. California Penal Code 19 PC. Except in cases where a different punishment is prescribed by any law of this state, every offense declared to be a misdemeanor is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, or by fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both.

  12. California Vehicle Code 21200 (a) VC.

  13. California Vehicle Code 21200.5 VC.

  14. See same.

  15. California Vehicle Code 13202.5 VC.

  16. California Vehicle Code 40000.13 VC.

  17. California Vehicle Code 21208 (a) VC.

  18. California Vehicle Code 21208 (a)(1) - (a)(4) VC.

  19. See DMV.org, above.

  20. California Vehicle Code 21202 (a) VC.

  21. California Vehicle Code 21202 (a)(1) – (a)(4) VC.

  22. California Vehicle Code 23127 VC.

  23. See same.

  24. See same.

  25. See same.

  26. See same.

  27. California Penal Code 19 PC.

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