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2016: New Year, New Laws

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.

Hover Boards: AB 604 sets forth the California law on “electrically motorized boards,” which is now codified in California Vehicle Code Section 313.5. It defines “electrically motorized board” as any wheeled device that has a floorboard that is not more than 60-inches deep and 18-inches wide, and is designed to be stood upon by one person when riding. The device has an electrical propulsion system averaging less than 1,000 watts, the maximum speed of which, when powered solely by a propulsion system on a paved level surface, is no more than 20 miles per hour. (I have read that currently hover boards max out at 13 miles per hour). The device also may be powered by human propulsion.

Hover boards fall within this definition. The law now  states:

You must be at least 16-years-old to ride a hover board (CVC Sect. 21291).

You must wear a helmet when operating a hover board (CVC Set. 21292).

When operated on public streets, paths or trails at night, a hover board must be equipped with the following (CVC Sect. 21293):

A lamp emitting white light illuminating the area in front of the hover board 300-feet. The light may be attached to the operator.

A red reflector on the rear visible from 500-feet away. The reflector may be attached to the operator.

A white or yellow reflector on each side visible from 200-feet away. This also may be attached to the operator.

Hover boards can only be operated on roadways with a speed limit of 35 miles or less unless it is operated entirely within a designated Class II (street bike lane) or Class IV (protected bike lane), bikeways. You may not operate a hover board on a highway, bikeway, or any other public bicycle path, sidewalk, or trail, at a speed in excess of 15 miles per hour.

Like all vehicles, hover boards cannot be operated at a speed greater than is reasonable when considering the weather, visibility, pedestrian and vehicular traffic, and the surface and width of the highway, bikeway, public bike path, sidewalk, or trail, or ever at a speed that endangers people or property (CVC Sect. 21294).

A hover board may not be operated by anyone under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs (CVC Sect. 21296).

The California Department of Transportation and counties and cities may enact their own regulations for their own jurisdictions (CVC Sect. 21960).

Bicycle Diversion Programs: A very exciting new development is Assembly Bill 902, which amends CVC 42005.3, which takes away the barriers that existed to local municipalities and police departments to operate bicycle education classes for cyclists who are cited for a traffic infraction in return for a significantly lower fine.

The catch is that neither funding nor a system of implementation was included in the bill. It is up to each locality to develop the funding and implementation of the program.

However, I do have high hopes for a burgeoning program. A bicycle diversion program in Huntington Beach had, by all reports, fantastic results prior to its being shut down because the law didn’t permit bicycle diversion programs.

Co-author of AB 902 Assembly Member Richard Bloom was awarded a 2015 “Streetsie” for California Legislator of the Year by Streetsblog, partially because of this legislation.


These new laws were fought for by bicycle advocates for all of our benefit. This is why it is so important for you to join the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, the California Bicycle Coalition, and your local bicycle coalition. Together, we can influence legislators to make California and our local municipalities safer and more bike-friendly communities.

For more than 30 years Jim Pocrass has represented people who are seriously injured, or families who lost a loved one in a wrongful death, due to the carelessness or negligence of another. A partner with Pocrass & De Los Reyes LLP, Jim is repeatedly named to Best Lawyers in America and Top 100 Southern California Super Lawyers for the results he achieves for his clients. His representation of hundreds of cyclists during his career, combined with Jim’s own interest in cycling, has resulted in him becoming a bicycle advocate and supporting numerous community bicycle programs. Jim is a board member of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. For a free, no-obligation consultation, contact Jim Pocrass at 310-550-9050 or at Connect with the Pocrass & De Los Reyes Bicycle Law Facebook Page.

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