On January 1st, 2016, several new road laws went into effect. LACBC board member and bicycling attorney Jim Pocrass was kind enough to talk about these new laws on a recent episode of Bike Talk and write up a summary of the new laws.
With the new year comes a host of new laws. Here is an overview of the new California laws that affect cyclists and drivers of vehicles (motor-driven or not).
Yellow Alert: The California Highway Patrol will start using a Yellow Alert to enlist the public’s help in hit-and-run crashes. It will operate almost exactly as the emergency Amber Alert. Hit and runs have become a California epidemic, taking the lives of hundreds of cyclists, bikers, pedestrians, and motorists each year.
The next two laws are not “new,” in the sense that they have been on the books for a while. They have been clarified in order to make them more specific to California lawmakers’ intentions.
Earbuds and Headphones: It has long been illegal to operate a vehicle—including a bicycle—wearing headphones or earphones on both ears, except in a few specific circumstances. Senate Bill 491 amends CVC 27400, which makes it unlawful to wear a headset covering, earplugs in, or earphones covering, resting on, or inserted in, both ears, while operating a motor vehicle or a bicycle. This prohibition does not apply to persons operating authorized emergency vehicles, construction equipment, and refuse or waste equipment while wearing a headset or safety earplugs.
There is some conversation among the bicycle community about whether or not earbuds are included in this statute. Though the word “earbud” is not stated within the law, apparently the Department of Motor Vehicles is interpreting the law to include earbuds as demonstrated by its press release in which it uses the term “earbuds” in the title of the law.
It seems clear to me that whether or not earbuds are specifically included in the writing of the law, they are certainly included in the intention of the law.
Slow-Moving Traffic: Assembly Bill 208 is codified in California Vehicle Code Section 21656. It was amended to read that on a two-lane highway, when passing is unsafe because of oncoming traffic or other conditions, any slower moving vehicles that are traveling slower than the normal speed that traffic is moving in the same direction at that time, must pull over either into the nearest designated turn off or wherever there is a sufficient area for safe turnout when there are five or more vehicles behind it so that those vehicles may pass the slower vehicle.
AB 208 has caused a lot of discussion in the bicycle community because the changes are so slight. The salient points you need to know are: 1.) since cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities of vehicle drivers, this law, naturally applies to cyclists, too; and 2.) the law only specifies two-lane roads and five or more vehicles behind you.
E-Bikes: Assembly Bill 1096 gave two of the three classifications of electric bike the right to access bike paths and bike lanes. This is the first of its kind of legislation in the country and demonstrates the growing popularity of e-bikes.
As of 2017, manufacturers must label e-bikes Type 1, 2, or 3. Simplistically explained, Types 1 and 2 have a maximum assisted speed of 20 miles per hour versus Type 3, which has a maximum assisted speed of 28 miles per hour.
According to AB 1096, Type 1 and 2 e-bikes may now be ridden in bike paths, bike lanes, bike routes, and protected lanes (Class I, II, III, IV bikeways). Having said that, counties, cities, and other government entities retain the right to regulate e-bikes as they wish.
E-bike riders still may not be permitted to ride, unless specifically indicated, in the following areas:
Bike paths and roads that are not under federal or state vehicle codes. For example, in a county park.
On natural surface parks, such as on mountain bike trails, and in open spaces.