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Preserving bicyclists' rights to share the roadways and preventing local authorities from limiting such rights are most important. Courtesy photo
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Legal alternatives for injured bicycle riders

By Russell Kohn

Kohn Law Office

Under California law, a bicycle is not considered a vehicle but is still governed by many of the same traffic laws.  Bicycle riders are considered to have the same rights as drivers to use of the streets, but the specifics regarding bicycle rights and responsibilities can be confusing.  By statute, “Every person riding a bicycle upon a highway has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this division ….” (See California Vehicle Code Section 21200).

Those who choose to avoid main thoroughfares by taking to trails and bikeways may be at even greater risk, however, because no city, county or state government entity in California bears any legal responsibility for maintaining safe riding conditions on a Class I or Class II bikeway. This odd result stems from court rulings that define the word “trail” to include paved bike paths. In the case of Prokop v. City of Los Angeles (2007) 150 Cal.App.4th 1332, David Prokop pursued litigation against the City of Los Angeles when a flawed design for a bike trail caused him to collide with a chain link fence, resulting in a severe laceration to his forehead, loss of consciousness, and neck pain.

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the City, holding that a class I bikeway, as defined in Streets and Highways Code section 890.4, is a “trail” under section 831.4, subdivision (b).  Because of this absolute governmental immunity, our law office was unable to help a person in a similar case who was seriously injured by the poor design and maintenance of a paved bike path in Oceanside, California   Our office has drafted legislation that would remedy this unfairness.

Bike lanes in streets, however, are governed by different laws than bike paths. The Kohn Law Office won an $80,000 recovery for a woman who had sustained facial wounds and tooth fractures when she encountered a raised utility manhole in the bike lane of a busy street in Carlsbad, California, which caused her to lose control and be thrown off her bicycle. In another case, the Kohn Law Office won a $125,000 recovery for a woman who suffered a fractured elbow when she rode her bicycle over an unmarked speed bump on a road in a mobile home park in Oceanside, California, which caused her to lose control and be thrown off her bicycle.

When operating a bicycle on a roadway, one of the most controversial issues how far to the right of a roadway a bicycle rider is obligated to ride.  In roadways without bike lanes, all slower traffic, including bicycles, must keep farther to the right (See California Vehicle Code Section 22100).  Of course, the law also now requires vehicles to keep at least 3 feet away from a bicycle rider on the roadway.

The purpose of traffic law is to promote safe and efficient traffic flow. What is most important to society is preserving bicyclists’ rights to share the roadways, and preventing local authorities from limiting such rights.  If you or a loved one has suffered injury then call us now for a free consultation. There is no fee if we don’t win!  

Attorneys Russell S. Kohn and Suzanne Skolnick have offices in Carlsbad and Oceanside, where they limit their practice to personal injury law. For a free initial consultation call (760) 721-8182 or (760) 585-7092 or email [email protected].