What You Need to Know About Bicycle Accidents in California

bicycles crossing the streetBicycling has many important social, economic, environmental, and health benefits. And because of California’s year-round warm weather, the state has one of the largest rider populations across the country.

But bicycle accidents have, unfortunately, become a more frequent occurrence in recent years. A 2020 article by the U.S. News and World Report found that bike fatalities reached a 25-year high in California last year and the nation as a whole saw a rise in bicycle-related deaths.

Below, we discuss some bicycle laws in California, common causes of bicycle crashes, and how to prove liability and seek compensation after a bicycle accident.

Common Causes of Bicycle Accidents

Bicycle crashes on public roads vary greatly and often include many different factors at play. Crashes between bicyclists and vehicles, however, are the most common scenario for these incidents. Crash data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that 96% of bicycle riders killed in 2017 were involved in single-vehicular crasheshow drivers cause bicycle crashes infographic

Specifically, the most common causes of bicycle accidents include:

Distracted Driving

This is one of the leading causes of all vehicular accidents, including those involving bicycles. Distracted driving is considered anything that takes a driver’s:

  • Hands off the wheel

  • Eyes off of the road

  • Mind off of driving

When drivers fail to remain vigilant and pay attention to their surroundings, they are significantly more likely to miss critical and changing road conditions that require them to take action to avoid dangerous collisions.


When drivers speed, they have less stopping ability and a limited amount of time to make decisions and maneuver on the road. As a result, they may be unable to brake in time when they spot a rider. This is especially true when drivers simultaneously tailgate riders by failing to leave an adequate buffer.

Reckless or Aggressive Driving

Aggressive driving, or road rage, occurs when a driver purposefully engages in dangerous or otherwise reckless actions, therefore endangering everyone else on the road. When the cyclist is the target of an aggressive driver, it can quickly turn into a dangerous situation—or even a deadly one. Some examples of aggressive driving include:

  • Speeding or racing

  • Tailgating

  • Excessive honking

  • Failing to signal (cutting someone off)

  • Disobeying traffic laws

  • Blocking the bike lane

  • Yelling or using inappropriate hand gestures

Impaired Driving

Drivers who get behind the wheel after drinking alcohol or taking illegal substances pose a danger to themselves and everyone else on the road. These substances reduce a driver’s ability to make smart decisions behind the wheel, see the road, control their hands and feet, and stay vigilant. Bicycle riders lack physical protection around their bodies and are often the most vulnerable when it comes to impaired drivers.

Unsafe Lane Changes

Drivers who are weaving through lanes often fail to see cyclists who are sharing the road and may drift outside of designated traffic lanes or into bike lanes and shoulders. Additionally, drivers who fail to use their mirrors and signal for an intended lane change pose a risk to bicyclists who are trying to stay safe.

Failing to Yield

Bicycle riders have the same rights as drivers on the road. When drivers fail to keep a proper lookout behind the wheel, they can easily miss bicycle riders on the road and cause a collision. Some of the most common scenarios of drivers failing to safely yield to bicyclists include:

  • Entering an intersection

  • Merging

  • Left-hand turns

  • Backing out of driveways or parking spaces

  • Failing to follow traffic signs, such as red lights or stop signs

Road Hazards

In some cases, it is not another driver that causes a rider to crash but an external factor. Hazardous road conditions are a common cause of bicycle accidents and can ultimately cause a rider to lose control of their bike and either fall off or veer into oncoming traffic. Some examples of road conditions that pose a risk for bicycle riders include:

  • Potholes

  • Gravelly, chipped, or uneven roads

  • Wet or slippery roads

  • Road debris

Defective or Malfunctioning Parts

Defects within the bike itself can pose a danger to riders that may not be discovered until it’s too late. Oftentimes, this involves a product liability claim against the bike manufacturer and may include one of the following:

  • Design Defect. The bike’s design is defective and the cyclist was injured as a result.

  • Manufacturing Defect. There was a problem during the manufacturing process of the bike or a component of it.

  • Failure to Warn. The bike manufacturer was aware of certain risks but failed to warn consumers of them.

Local and California State Bicycle Laws

Many people in Fresno use bicycles to commute to work or visit restaurants, stores, and other entertainment or government services. As such, the state of California and the city of Fresno have taken steps and implemented laws to help riders stay safe while on their bikes. California bicycle laws infographic

For the most part, riders have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers. Below are specific laws that relate to cycling, according to the California Vehicle Code:

Where You Can Ride:

  • If you're as fast as traffic, you can ride wherever you want

  • If slower than the flow of traffic, use the bicycle lane or ride on the right side

  • Counties and cities control if bikes can ride on sidewalks

  • You cannot stop in the bicycle lane

  • Bicyclists may not ride on freeways

How to Ride

  • Riders under 18 must wear a helmet

  • Headphones may not be used while operating a bike

  • Cell phones are allowed (be careful!)

  • Riders may not operate bicycles while under the influence of drugs or alcohol

  • Bicycles must yield to pedestrians

Equip Your Bike

  • Bikes must be equipped with brakes

  • Bicycles must be small enough for riders to stop and support it

  • At night, a white headlight must be attached and used

  • Reflectors must be attached to the front, back, and sides

  • Riders must have a permanent seat

Proving Liability in a California Bicycle Accident

Navigating a bicycle accident claim is no easy task. On top of trying to heal from your injuries, you may also be worried about how to prove who was at fault for your collision so you can pursue the compensation needed to pay for your out-of-pocket expenses.

This is where an experienced bicycle accident attorney comes in. Your attorney will be able to review the exact details of your case and determine 1) what caused your accident and 2) who is liable for your damages. Here is a list of potential parties that are often found responsible for a bike-related crash:

  • Negligent Driver. Drivers can be held liable for a bicycle collision if they were engaging in one of the negligent behaviors that we described above. If another motorist caused your bike crash, you may pursue compensation from that driver or their insurance company.

  • Bike Manufacturer. If your bicycle accident was caused by a poorly designed part or defective design, you may be able to pursue a product liability claim against the manufacturer.

  • City or Public Agency. The city has a responsibility to maintain roads to a certain degree. If your accident occurs on a public road because of a road hazard or negligent bike lane position, the city or public agency may be liable for your injuries.

Advocating on Behalf of Injured Bicyclists

If you have been injured in a bicycle accident, turn to Fowler Helsel Vogt for both legal representation and dedicated advocacy in your corner. Having worked with injury victims for decades, we have seen how injuries sustained in bicycle collisions can completely turn someone’s world upside down. We also understand just how much your recovery is contingent on obtaining the maximum compensation you deserve.

When you’re injured and you don’t know what to do next, we do. You can consider Fowler Helsel Vogt your safety net when it comes to pursuing the compensation you need to heal the right way.

Contact our Fresno bicycle accident attorneys at (559) 900-1280 to speak with our legal team for free today!

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