What are my rights and responsibilities as a bicycle rider? For example, do I have to wear a helmet?
That’s a great question. So, in California, a bicyclist, like any other user of a roadway, is required to act like a reasonable person. And that requires a bicyclist to obey all of the laws that a driver would have to do. Not to drive too fast. Not to ride your bike without paying attention to what’s in front of you, or seeing what’s in front of you. Not to make turns on red lights, or to fail to obey a stop sign. A bicyclist has no special rights that a driver of a car doesn’t have. They have to obey the laws of the State of California.
In California, if you’re under the age of 18, you’re required by law to wear a helmet while riding a bicycle, a scooter or any sort of motorized bike. However, an adult does not share that responsibility in California. But as a practical matter, if an adult is riding a bike and he’s injured and suffers a head injury, the fact finder, either the jury or the court, could certainly find that the plaintiff bears some responsibility for his own injuries because he wasn’t wearing a helmet. That’s not to say that the defendant that caused that collision will be found responsible in some proportion. But failure to wear a helmet while riding a bicycle in California is either against the law, if you’re underage, or be going to bear some personal responsibility for your injuries for failing to wear that helmet.
Can I still bring a lawsuit against the driver if I was doing something I wasn’t supposed to do, like riding on the wrong side of the road, or not having lights on my bicycle or reflectors?
Yes. So again, under California law, we have what’s called the Pure Comparative Fault System. And what that means is that, a bicycle crash can be partially the plaintiff’s fault and partially the defendant’s fault. For example, if a plaintiff is riding his bicycle at night and doesn’t have lights on the back and front illuminating his presence, and the defendant who’s in a car is driving drunk and runs through a stop sign and hits the bicyclist, then in that case, the jury gets to decide who’s responsible for this event. And a jury could determine that even though the defendant was drunk and ran a stop sign, that the plaintiff still bears some responsibility for the crash because he didn’t have lights. And the theory being or the justification being, that if there had been lights on the front of the vehicle, the drunk driver would’ve seen him and not crash into him.
But that’s not to say that all jurors will find that way. Certainly, in this factual scenario, a jury could come back and say, “I don’t care that the plaintiff didn’t have lights on his bicycle because the defendant was drunk and ran a stop sign, and this is all entirely the defendant’s fault.” So, just because a plaintiff might be doing something wrong or that’s a violation of the rules of the road, it doesn’t mean that their lawsuit is barred.