As a driver in California, it's crucial to be aware of bicyclists sharing the roads. To help protect cyclists, California has enacted Vehicle Code Section 21209 VC, which prohibits motorists from driving on designated bike lanes.
Motorists can only drive on a bike lane to enter or leave the road, prepare for a turn at the intersection, or to park. This law does not prohibit using motorized bicycles in bike lanes, but users must drive at a safe speed under the circumstances.
Motorists unlawfully driving in a bike lane is not a crime but an infraction under California law. This means no criminal charges will be filed, and violations will not result in jail time.
However, if you ignore the citation for violating Vehicle Code 21209 VC, you could be charged and penalized under Vehicle Code 40580 for the failure to appear in court on a traffic citation.
VC 21209 says, “(a) No person shall drive a motor vehicle in a bicycle lane established on a roadway pursuant to Section 21207 except as follows:
(1) To park where parking is permitted.
(2) To enter or leave the roadway.
(3) To prepare for a turn within a distance of 200 feet from the intersection.
(b) This section does not prohibit the use of a motorized bicycle in a bicycle lane, pursuant to Section 21207.5, at a speed no greater than is reasonable or prudent, having due regard for visibility, traffic conditions, and the condition of the roadway surface of the bicycle lane, and in a manner which does not endanger the safety of bicyclists.”
If you are cited for violating this rule, you could be fined and receive a point on your driving record. Let's review this law further below.
What Does the Law Say?
Under VC 21209, it is illegal for motor vehicles to drive in designated bike lanes marked by solid white lines, pavement markings, and signage. The primary purpose of this law is to protect cyclists by providing them with a separate space on the road.
Exceptions to the Rule
VC 21209 affords three exceptions in which it is not a violation for a motorist to be in the bike lane. These include:
- When a driver is entering or leaving the roadway;
- When a driver is preparing to make a right turn within 200 feet of the intersection; and
- When a driver enters or leaves a parking space where parking is permitted.
Can Motorized Bikes Use the Bike Lane?
VC 21209 does permit motorized bikes to use the bike lane provided the following are true:
- The lane is adjacent to or within a roadway, such as not a separated bike trail, equestrian trail, etc.;
- The bike is operating at a speed that is "reasonable and prudent" for the circumstances; and
- The bike is not being operated in a way that threatens other cyclists.
In these matters, VC 21209 also defers to local ordinances, so the rules concerning whether a motorized bicycle can use a bike lane may change from community to community.
What Are Some Examples?
EXAMPLE 1: Bob is a driver trying to turn right on a congested roadway. He veers into the bike lane about 1000 feet from his designated turn to avoid traffic. Bob can be ticketed under VC 21209.
EXAMPLE 2: Erin enters the bike lane to parallel park at the only open parking spot on the street. Erin is not in violation of VC 21209.
EXAMPLE 3: Arnie is riding a motorized bicycle for a food delivery service and is running late. To get around the traffic, he veers into the bike lane and rides at about 35 mph, narrowly missing several cyclists as he passes them. Although Arnie is technically permitted to ride his motorized bicycle in the bike lane, he can be cited under VC 21209 because he wasn't driving reasonably safely.
What Are the Related Offenses?
Several California laws are related to Vehicle Code 21209, driving in a bike lane, such as the following:
- Vehicle Code 21755 VC – unsafe passing on the right or driving on the shoulder of a highway;
- Vehicle Code 21211 VC – obstructing a bicycle lane or path;
- Vehicle Code 21712 VC – unlawful riding in a vehicle;
- Vehicle Code 20001 VC – felony hit and run causing injury or death;
- Vehicle Code 20002 VC – misdemeanor hit and run.
What Are the Penalties for VC 21209?
A violation of VC 21209 is an infraction resulting in a fine. The standard fine per violation is $238.
In addition, each violation is worth one point on your DMV record. The DMV records your points for up to three years, and if you accumulate too many points within specific time frames, the DMV may designate you as a negligent driver, suspending your license.
For example, suppose you accumulate several points within one, two, or three periods. In that case, you can be declared a negligent driver and have your driver's license either suspended or revoked. However, this type of action would require a California DMV hearing.
Further, points are also reported to your insurance carrier, which may cause your premiums to increase. You will not be required to attend traffic school.
Suppose you injured a bicyclist due to reckless driving in a bike lane. In that case, they could file a personal injury lawsuit against you to recover financial compensation for damages.
What Are the Defenses for VC 21209?
If you're cited for violating Vehicle Code 21209 and disagreeing with the citation, you can contest the infraction. Several possible defenses may apply, as discussed below.
Perhaps we can argue that it was necessary or that there was an emergency. For example, suppose you were avoiding a hazard or obstacle in the roadway or swerving to avoid a collision ahead of you. In that case, you can argue that your actions were necessary to ensure your safety or the safety of others.
Perhaps we can argue that there was a lack of proper signage. For example, if the bike lane was not clearly marked or the signage was obstructed, you can say that you were unaware of the bike lane's presence.
Perhaps we can argue that you qualify for an exception. If you were within the 200-foot limit for turning or entering/exiting a roadway, for example, you can say that your actions complied with the law. Again, eyewitnesses and video footage can be particularly helpful with this type of defense.
You can contact us for a case consultation by phone or through the contact form. Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles, California.