Can cars drive in bicycle lanes?

Written on behalf of Abramson Smith Waldsmith LLP

When cars and bicycles share California streets, the hazard to bicyclists can seem extremely daunting. Only a single white line stands between bicyclists and thousands of pounds of steel moving at high speed, with little protection for you as the cyclist. Yet bicycle lanes should offer safety as a free riding lane clear of motor vehicle traffic – so why do you sometimes see cars merging into designated bicycle lanes? Is this legal, and is it safe?

The California Department of Motor Vehicles says that not only is it legal, it is sometimes required. Cars are required to merge into bicycle lanes when preparing to make a right turn. Even when remaining aware of traffic around you and watching for the turn signals of vehicles ahead of you, this can be startling and frightening when a car suddenly begins to merge toward you. Without adequate safety precautions and awareness on the part of both yourself and the driver, this can lead to a car crash and possible personal injury.

When such injuries can be catastrophic and often result in disproportionate suffering to bicyclists, situational awareness is always critical when driving in bike lanes. Drivers moving adjacent to bike lanes or merging into them are also expected to exercise reasonable caution to prevent a dangerous situation or collision. While bicyclists and motorists may share the same road, liability for injury requires a very different set of rules for each when practicing safe driving.

This has been an educational blog post intended only as a reference, and not as a substitute for legal advice.

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