Driving on a Bike Lane in California
Vehicle Code 21209

California Vehicle Code 21209 VC prohibits motorists in California from driving a vehicle on a bicycle lane except under limited circumstances.

There are five important points to know about VC 21209.

  • Motorists can only drive on a bike lane to: (1) park; (2) enter or leave a roadway; or, (3) prepare for a turn from an intersection.
  • A motorist that unlawfully drives on a bike lane must pay a fine of $238.00.
  • A driver that violates Vehicle Code 21209 VC will 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 drivers that violate Vehicle Code 21209 VC. It's in the driver's best interests, though, to consult with an attorney before raising one.
  • A driver must not ignore a California ticket for driving on a bicycle lane. If he does, the driver 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:

1. Vehicle Code 21209 VC – Motor vehicles in California bicycle lanes

California Vehicle Code 21209 states that no person shall drive a vehicle in a bike lane except as follows:

  • To park where parking is permitted;
  • To enter or leave the roadway; or,
  • To prepare for a turn within 200 feet from the intersection.1

Please note that VC 21209 does not prohibit the use of motorized bicycles in bike lanes.2 Drivers of these bikes, however, must ensure that they drive at a speed that is reasonable under the circumstances.3

2. The penalties for driving in a bike lane

A driver that violates Vehicle Code 21209 receives two penalties. These include:

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

2.1. Fine

A driver that drives on a bike lane receives a ticket for doing so and must pay a corresponding fine.

The fine for violating VC 21209 is approximately $238.00.4

2.2. Points on the motorist's DMV driving record

Motorists that drive on a bike lane in violation of Vehicle Code 21209 VC will receive one point on their DMV driving record.5 Points put on a driver's record are ultimately reported to a driver's insurance carrier. The result is typically an increase in the motorist's insurance rates for several years.

A problem also occurs when points accumulate over time. If a driver in California accumulates a certain number of points within a 1-,2- or 3-year period, the DMV can declare that person a negligent driver. If this happens, the DMV can either suspend or revoke a motorist's driving privileges.

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

3. Legal defenses if a driver violates VC 21209

A driver that receives a ticket for driving on a bike lane does not have to automatically plead guilty to it, or admit he was at fault. Drivers can always challenge traffic tickets by raising a legal defense. But, if this is done, it's best for a driver to gain the assistance of an attorney.

3.1. Common defenses for driving in a bike lane

There are three common defenses for violating Vehicle Code 21209 VC. These are:

  1. The driver drove on a bike lane but did so under one of the exceptions in VC 21209. That is, he drove on a bike lane to either: park, enter or leave the roadway, or, turn from an intersection.
  2. There was an emergency that required the motorist to drive in a bike lane.
  3. The officer made a mistake.

Please know that if a motorist raises a legal defense on his behalf, he will require evidence to support his position. The best evidence typically includes:

  • Witnesses
  • Photographs
  • Surveillance video

3.2. Contact a lawyer for help

Drivers can represent themselves if they challenge a ticket for driving on a bike lane. However, it's in the driver's best interests to contact a California 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 21209 VC and traffic school

Drivers that violate VC 21209 do not have to attend traffic school. But, they can volunteer to do so.

Drivers can choose to go to traffic school if:

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

If a driver chooses to attend traffic school, he must still pay his fine.6 However, the driver generally should not get any points on his driving record if he completes the school.7

5. Driving on a bicycle lane and criminal charges

Criminal charges do not get filed if a person violates Vehicle Code 21209 VC. This is because it's not a crime if a motorist drives on a bike lane.

Violations of VC 21209 are infractions under California law. Violators are not subject to incarceration or any other criminal penalties.

6. Ignoring a ticket for violating VC 21209

Drivers should not ignore a ticket for violating Vehicle Code 21209 VC. Two things happen if this occurs. These are:

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

If the driver willfully fails to appear as promised, he violates Vehicle Code 40508 VC.8 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.9

It also does not matter whether the offending driver is guilty or innocent of the underlying traffic citation.10 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.11

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 $1,000.12

7. Violations of VC 21209 and subsequent lawsuits

Motorists that drive on a bike lane, in violation of Vehicle Code 21209, may injure a bicycle rider. If this occurs, the driver exposes himself to:

  1. A lawsuit filed by the bike rider; and,
  2. A potential finding of negligence against the motorist.

7.1. Lawsuits filed by bike riders

Bicycle accidents are a common occurrence in California. They can be caused by reckless drivers, dangerous road conditions, or careless pedestrians.

Given the frequency of bike accidents, bicycle accident lawsuits in California are also a common occurrence.

If a bike rider is injured in an accident (e.g., injured after struck by a motorist driving on a bike lane), he can file a lawsuit against the party that caused the injury.

If successful, the bicycle rider may be able to recover damages for:

  • Physical injuries;
  • Bicycle damages;
  • Lost wages; and/or,
  • Medical bills.

In addition, if a bicycle rider was killed in an accident, the surviving family members may be able to file a California wrongful death lawsuit for damages.

7.2. A potential finding of negligence against a motorist

If a driver violates Vehicle Code 21209, he may very well injure another party – a bicycle rider, a pedestrian, another motorist, etc. If so, the injured party may file a personal injury lawsuit against the driver. And, the driver may be found “negligent.”

California law defines "negligence" as the failure to use reasonable care to prevent harm to oneself or to others. Regarding auto accidents, negligent drivers are at fault for the accident and may have to pay for any damages caused.

Proving negligence in a personal injury case can sometimes be difficult. In California though, a driver is considered "negligent per se" if he violates a statute.

Negligence “per se” is a legal theory in which negligence is presumed based upon a defendant's violation of a statute or ordinance

This means a driver would be negligent per se if driving a vehicle on a bike lane because he would be in violation of VC 21209.

Please note, however, that even if a driver is negligent per se, the driver may still be able to recover for any damages he incurs. This is because of California's comparative fault laws.

8. Laws related to Vehicle Code 21209 VC

There are three laws related to VC 21209. These include:

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

8.1. Riding bicycles within bike lanes

California Vehicle Code 21208 states that bikers must ride their bicycles within bike lanes whenever they have been established.13

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.14

A violation of Vehicle Code 21208 results in a fine of $197.00. No points are placed on a biker's DMV driving record.15

8.2 Bicyclists riding on the right-hand side of the road

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.16

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.17

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

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.18

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.19

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.20

VC 23127 applies to hiking trails, horseback riding trails, and bike paths.21

Vehicle Code 23127 states:

Any person who violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor.22

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 $1,000.23

Were you accused of driving on a bike lane in California? Call us for help…

california traffic driving in bike lane attorneys legal defense
Call us for help at (855) LAW-FIRM

If you or someone you know has been cited for violating VC 21209, 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) LAW-FIRM.


Legal References:

  1. California Vehicle Code 21209 (a)(1)-(3) VC.

  2. California Vehicle Code 21209 (b) VC.

  3. See same.

  4. See DMV.org.

  5. See same.

  6. See California Courts website.

  7. See same.

  8. California Vehicle Code 40508 VC.

  9. 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.

  10. See same.

  11. California Vehicle Code 40508 VC, endnote 1.

  12. 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.

  13. California Vehicle Code 21208 (a) VC.

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

  15. See DMV.org, above.

  16. California Vehicle Code 21202 (a) VC.

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

  18. California Vehicle Code 23127 VC.

  19. See same.

  20. See same.

  21. See same.

  22. See same.

  23. California Penal Code 19 PC.

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