California Bicycle Rules of the Road: Stop Signs and Traffic Lights

California Law—The Basics:

  • The driver of any vehicle approaching a stop sign at the entrance to, or within, an intersection shall stop at a limit line, if marked, otherwise before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection.1
  • A driver facing a steady circular red signal alone shall stop at a marked limit line, but if none, before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection or, if none, then before entering the intersection, and shall remain stopped until an indication to proceed is shown…2

California Law—Going Deeper:

There is probably no bicycling issue more divisive than how cyclists behave at stop signs and traffic lights. When drivers complain about cyclists, they will almost always repeat the old chestnut that “cyclists never stop at stop signs.” This is an especially remarkable complaint in California, when you consider that drivers here practically invented the “California stop.”

But is it true that “cyclists never stop at stop signs”? Studies of cyclist and driver behavior show that cyclists are actually more law-abiding than drivers. In fact, drivers break more laws, and they break them more often. And this is the point that the accusatory “conversations” about cyclist behavior always miss– everybody, regardless of how they’re getting around, breaks the law when their judgment tells them it’s safe. Pedestrians jaywalk. Cyclists roll through stop signs. Drivers speed.

So while it’s true that cyclists don’t always come to a complete stop at stop signs, it’s also true that everybody breaks the traffic laws. And while some types of lawbreaking are relatively harmless– for example, crossing a street when there is no oncoming traffic– other types of lawbreaking are decidedly more harmful. For example, speeding is a major factor in traffic collisions. The point here is that cyclists are singled out for special scorn as “scofflaws,” when in fact they are more law-abiding than drivers, and cause far less harm than drivers do when drivers break the law.

And in fact, contrary to their “scofflaw” image, cyclists actually prefer to change the laws. Many cyclists have well-reasoned arguments about why they shouldn’t always have to come to a complete stop, and why the law should be changed to “Stop as Yield,” which would allow cyclists to treat a stop sign as a yield sign. But for the time-being, failing to come to a complete stop at a stop sign is against the law in California, whether you’re riding a bike or driving a car.

That may change. In 2017, Stop as Yield legislation was introduced in California, but was withdrawn by the bill’s authors in the face of stiff opposition from AAA and the Teamsters. However, that same year, Stop as Yield legislation was passed in Delaware. In 2018, Colorado passed Stop as Yield legislation, and in 2019, Arkansas and Oregon both passed Stop as Yield laws.

And now California has another opportunity to join the ranks of states with Stop as Yield laws. In March 2021, the Assembly Transportation Committee passed A.B. 122, which would allow cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs. A.B. 122 still has to pass the full state Assembly and Senate before heading to the Governor’s desk, but the first legislative hurdle has been passed. Will 2021 be the year California finally passes a Stop as Yield law? It’s too soon to tell, but so far, it’s looking good.

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But for now, the law in California still requires cyclists to come to a full stop at stop signs and red traffic lights. Here’s what that means legally:

Citations:

  • If you roll a stop sign or stoplight and a law enforcement officer sees it, you can be stopped and ticketed.
  • You are not required to have a driver’s license to ride a bike, but a law enforcement officer can require you to provide an acceptable form of ID if you are stopped.
  • The penalty for rolling through a stop sign or stoplight will be exactly the same as the penalty for drivers.
  • However, to avoid moving violation points being applied against your driver’s license and the violation being reported to your insurance company, make sure your ticket states you were riding a bicycle. Under California law, courts are not required to report traffic violations if you were riding a bicycle. The Court may not be aware of this, so always make sure that your ticket states you were riding a bicycle, and always ask the Court not to report the violation, as allowed for under California Vehicle Code Section 1803(b)(6). Note that the Court has the discretion to report or not report the violation, so a polite, knowledgeable, and professional demeanor will be your best friend when asking the Court not to report the violation.

Violations:

  • The base fine for a stop sign violation is $35. The base fine for a red light violation is $100. However, California law allows counties to add additional fees to the base fines for traffic violations. The fees assessed will depend on the county where the violation occurred, but typically will add several hundred dollars to the base fine.

Collisions:

  • If you are involved in a collision after rolling through a stop sign or stop light, you can be found negligent, and either partially or completely at fault in the collision. If you are found to be negligent and partially at fault, you will be held responsible for your share of the damages resulting from the collision. But if you are found to be negligent and wholly at fault, you will be held responsible for all of the damages resulting from the collision.
  • Because the legal and financial consequences of a collision can be quite serious, you should consult with an attorney as soon as you are able, regardless of who may be at fault.

If You’ve Been Injured in a Crash:

Do not communicate with the driver’s insurance company before consulting with an attorney. Most cyclists want to be fair and reasonable with the insurance company. Unfortunately, when you communicate with the insurance company, they are gathering information to be used against you later. What you see as an effort on your part to communicate a fair and honest account of the accident will be seen by the insurance company as an opportunity to gather evidence in support of their argument that your negligence caused the accident.

Contact bicyclelaw.com or another personal injury attorney who understands bicycling. While many attorneys are competent to handle general injury cases, make sure your attorney has experience and is familiar with:

  • Bicycle traffic laws
  • Negotiating bicycle accident cases with insurance companies
  • Trying bicycle accident cases in court
  • The prevailing prejudice against cyclists by motorists and juries
  • The names and functions of all bicycle components
  • The speed bikes travel as well as braking and cornering
  • Bicycle handling skills, techniques, and customs
  • How to get the full replacement value property damage estimates for your bicycle
  • Establishing the value of lost riding time
  • Leading bicycle accident reconstruction experts
  • Licensed forensic bicycle engineers
  • Establishing the value of permanent diminished riding ability

If you have been injured in a bicycle accident, whether in a solo accident that may be the result of another party’s negligence, or in a collision with another person, contact bicyclelaw.com for a free consultation with bicycle attorney Bob Mionske.

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