On January 1, 2016, the California legislature executed several new laws which impact bicyclists in California. Due to its sunny climate, areas like Riverside, are home to large bicycling populations. The most recent statistics report that from 2002 to 2006, there were 12,623 bicycle collisions in Riverside. These bike populations will be affected by these laws which only represent a few out of the 808 bills signed by Governor Brown during the 2015 legislative session. The purpose of this article is to explain the details of these new laws then and the effect these laws will likely have on the Riverside area.
Senate Bill 491: Earbuds
In the now outdated Section 27400 of the California Vehicle Code, California restricted only headphones that covered the ears. But in accordance with the now passed Senate Bill 491, not only headphones but also earbuds worn inside an individual’s ear, and earphones that cover one’s ears while riding a bicycle. While earbuds are not explicitly mentioned in the statute, the California Department of Motor Vehicles likely intended to include earbuds because it used the word in the press release announcing Senate Bill 491 to ensure that motorists follow the new law. Furthermore, earbuds match the description of one of the devices described in Senate Bill 491.
The terms of Senate Bill 491 do not apply to individuals who are operating certain emergency service vehicles, construction equipment, and waste equipment who might wear headsets or safety earplugs. Technically, Senate Bill 491 also does not apply to individuals who only have one earbud in use, but it remains to be seen how this issue will be treated by California courts.
If California explicitly speaks out against earbuds, California will join four other states in banning earbuds. There is a lack of statistics concerning how many bicyclists wore earbuds while riding before Senate Bill 491 so it is difficult to assess how many bicyclists this law will affect. There is a similar lack of statistics concerning the number of accidents that occurred due to distracted drivers wearing ear buds.
If an accident victim can establish the opposing driver was violating Senate Bill 491 then the driver may be automatically found negligent. As a result, in the event of a car accident due to a driver who is distracted as he listens to music in his earbuds, the accident victim will have a significantly easier time establishing a case.
Assembly Bill 208: Highway Lane Use
California also enacted Assembly Bill 208, which broadens the previous law – California Vehicle Code Section 21656 – requiring motor vehicles to pull over safely to the side and allow others to pass. Under California Vehicle Code Section 21656, bicycles were not classified as vehicles that were required to allow other vehicles to pass. Under Assembly Bill 208, however, bicycles now are classified the same as motor vehicles and must also let traffic pass.
There are exact circumstances in which Assembly Bill 208 applies: there must be a two-lane highway, passing the car or bicycle must be unsafe due to traffic or other reasons, the car or bicycle must be traveling slower than the normal pace of traffic, and the traffic that is slowed down must include five or more vehicles.
The Executive Director of the California Bicycle Coalition has expressed the opinion that this law is insignificant although nice to finally have codified because most bicyclists already followed the rule as an unwritten element of biking.
Assembly Bill 902: Bicycle Diversion Programs
California’s former law – California Vehicle Code 42005.3 – served to prevent bicyclists from attending traffic schools that would allow cyclists to reduce the cost of traffic infractions by attending the program. Bicycle Diversion Programs now exists due to Assembly Bill 902 for bicyclists to decrease the potential penalty of traffic infractions. Assembly Bill 902, however, includes no information about how these programs should be funded or implemented.
While Assembly Bill 902 has been described by the Education Director of Bike East Bay as a chance for bicyclists to turn tickets into education, it remains to be seen how widely supported this issue will be by the Riverside area.
Assembly Bill 1096: Electric Bicycles
It is worth mentioning that California has established a set of laws, found in Assembly Bill 1096, for the electric bicycle, which has been increasing in popularity in the Riverside area. California law defines an electric bicycle as a bicycle with fully operable pedals and an electric motor. Based on the wattage of the motor, electric bicycles are classified into one of three classes. California law strictly prohibits modifying the strength of electric bicycle motors. The law dictates that electric bicycle riders do not need license plate, driver’s licenses, or registration with the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Manufacturers and distributes are required to label bicycles with certain information including classification numbers, the speed that the bicycle travels, and the bicycle’s wattage.
California is now one of over 20 states to pass similar legislation concerning the status of electric bikes. Not to mention, seven states are classified as containing in-progress legislation that will treat electric bikes in a manner similar to California.
Advice for Bicyclists in Riverside
While the California Highway Patrol designated May as National Bike Safety Month, bicycle safety and suitable practices should be followed every month in California. Based on statistics from 2014 provided by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, about two percent of collision victims are bicyclists. Make sure to follow current laws in California and the most recent statistics reported by the California Highway Patrol regarding biking and remember these three pieces of advice:
Earbuds. Do not wear any type of music emitting earpiece while riding your bike unless a handful of very specific exceptions apply.
Two Lane Traffic. If you are on a bicycle traveling on a two-lane surface, remember to slow down if you are traveling at a slower than average pace and there are five or more vehicles trying to go at a normal pace behind yours.
Night Riding. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 48 percent of bicyclist deaths occur between 4:00 p.m. and midnight, which suggests that bicyclists might want to think twice about riding bicycles after dark.
If you have been in an auto accident that involves the violation of any of the “new” California legislation that became effective on January 1, 2016, call our experienced Riverside car accident attorneys at The Sargent Firm Injury Lawyers as soon as possible for a free consultation to discuss your case.