California Court Rules Bicyclists Are Subject to Reckless Driving Laws

As a bicyclist, I frequently ride around Alameda on our beautiful trails around the San Francisco Bay. While riding on these paths, I often encounter pedestrians sharing the trail. As a matter of safety, I call out to pedestrians when approaching them from behind to warn that I am approaching. I also slow up while passing so I can take proper evasive action if the pedestrian starts to move into my path of travel. However, I often see bikers zoom by these pedestrians without warning. I consider such conduct reckless. Now California courts have recognized the bicyclist can be charged with driving a “vehicle” recklessly under California Vehicle Code section 23103.

Vehicle Code section 23103 states “(a) A person who drives a vehicle upon a highway in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving. (b) A person who drives a vehicle in an off street parking facility, as defined in subdivision (c) of Section 12500, in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.

In the case of Velasquez v Superior Court (2014), 227 Cal.App.4th 1471, Mr. Velasquez had attended a Dodgers baseball game. Apparently, he had a lot to drink at the game, as his blood alcohol level at the time of his accident was .218, two and a half times above the legal limit. He left the stadium on his fixed gear bike, which has no conventional brakes. As he drove down a hill, he veered onto the wrong side of the road to avoid a car that pulled in front of him and drove into a pedestrian. The pedestrian sustained broken facial bones, memory loss, and a loss of consciousness. Mr. Velasquez was charged with reckless driving. He tried to avoid the charges by claiming that he was not a “vehicle” within the meaning of the statute and therefore he could not be charged with such a crime. The appellate court disagreed, holding that a bicyclist can be subject to the same criminal penalties as a motorist when they are operating their bikes in a reckless manner.

In coming to its conclusion, the Velasquez court pointed out that the California legislature had amended vehicle code section 21200 in 1982 to make clear that bikers had the same rights and were subject to the same rules of motor vehicle operators, which include prohibitions against driving under the influence of alcohol.

In San Francisco, a cyclist ran through three red lights before entering the intersection at Castro and Market Street. Witnesses said the bicyclist either ran through a red light, or a changing yellow light before striking a seventy-one year old pedestrian, who was killed in the accident. The cyclist was charged with vehicular manslaughter. The bicyclist, who had a clean prior driving record, pled guilty to the charge and was sentenced to probation for three years and community service.

As a cyclist, I often enjoy commuting to work on my bike, or taking a long ride on the weekends. I cringe when I see cyclists who ride their bikes without due regard of the safety of others using the road. As an Alameda personal injury, I have represented numerous pedestrians and bicyclists who have been injured in accidents. There simply is no place for riding through red lights, racing past unsuspecting pedestrians or other unsafe practices.


California Rules that Even on a bicycle it’s reckless driving, San Francisco Chronicle, July 21, 2014

Phone Numbers