California Driver Manual and bicyclists

California Driver Handbook 2010 cover
The California DMV recently published a new, 2010 edition of the California Driver Handbook. A change over previous editions is additional information about how motorists should behave around cyclists.

The section about bicyclists in the Slow Moving Vehicle section looks like this.

Bicyclists on public streets have the same rights and responsibilities as automobile and motorcycle drivers. Respect the right-of- way of bicyclists because they are entitled to share the road with other drivers. Here are some critical points for drivers and bicyclists to remember:

Motor vehicle drivers must:

  • Pass a bicyclist as they would a slow moving-vehicle. Pass with caution, and only when safe.
  • Look carefully for bicyclists before opening doors next to moving traffic or before turning.
  • Safely merge toward the curb or into the bike lane.
  • Not overtake a bicyclist just before making a turn. Merge first, then turn.
  • Be careful when approaching or passing a bicyclist on a freeway.


  • Must obey all traffic signals and stop signs.
  • Are lawfully permitted to ride on certain sections of freeways, in some rural areas where there is no alternate route.
  • Must ride in the same direction as other traffic, not against it.
  • Shall ride as near to the right curb or edge of the roadway as practical– not on the sidewalk.
  • May legally move left to turn left, to pass a parked or moving vehicle, bicycle, animal, make a turn or avoid debris and other hazards.
  • May choose to ride near the left curb or edge of a one-way street.
  • Should ride single file on a busy or narrow street.
  • Must make left and right turns in the same way that drivers do, using the same turn lanes. If the bicyclist is traveling straight ahead, he or she should use a through traffic lane rather than ride next to the curb and block traffic making right turns.
  • Must signal all their intentions to motorists and bicyclists near them.
  • Must wear a helmet if under the age of 18.
  • Should carry identification.
  • Shall not operate a bicycle on a roadway during darkness unless the bicycle is equipped with:
    • A brake which will enable the operator to make one braked wheel skid on dry level, clean pavement.
    • A front lamp emitting a white light visible from a distance of 300 feet.
    • A rear red reflector visible from a distance of 500 feet.
    • A white or yellow reflector on each pedal visible from a distance of 200 feet.

CA Drivers Handbook How to pass bike

Instruction on how motorists should drive around cyclists is not limited to the slow moving vehicles section. This “Right / Wrong” diagram on how to pass a cyclist, for example, is on the section on how pass any vehicle and how to use passing lanes. These directions are given for “Passing Other Traffic”:

Avoid passing other vehicles, including motorcycles and bicycles, on two-lane roads. It is dangerous. Every time you pass, you increase your chances of having a collision. Be patient when passing a bicyclist. Slow down and pass only when it is safe. Do not squeeze the bicyclist off the road.

Under “Road Workers and Work Zones,” we find this discussion:

In work zones where lanes are narrow or where the shoulder is closed, watch for bicycles and “share the road” when they are present.

The current DMV test for California drivers license also has questions about sharing the road with cyclists. Some questions I’ve heard of and seen on sample tests include:

You must look for bicycle riders in the same lanes used by motor vehicles because they:
a. Must ride facing oncoming traffic
b. Illegally share lanes with motor vehicles
c. Are entitled to share the road with you

To make a right turn at the corner, you:
a. May not enter the bicycle lane.
b. Should only merge into the bicycle lane if you stop before turning.
c. Must merge into the bicycle lane before turning.

On a green arrow, you must:
a. Yield to any vehicle, bicycle, or pedestrian in the intersection.
b. Yield to pedestrians only in the intersection.
c. Wait four seconds before proceeding.

How does tihs compare with your state’s driving manual and driver’s license test?

See the California Drivers’ Handbook here.


  1. I haven't lived here long enough to recall, but do they show those “Watch for motorcycles!” commercials during the summer when there are more motorcycles on the road? I am hoping one day to see “Watch for bicycles!” commercials someday too. I feel like they are mostly saved for bus driver training videos and direct online viewing.

  2. I was just at the DMV on Monday and was talking about these same things! The section that I found interesting was on legal bicycle turns (p. 48). I have definitely been honked at for doing the left turn where you stay to the right, cross the street, and turn 90 degrees to go straight when the light changes. I always thought it was a silly, illegal workaround, but it turns out the driver's handbook even tells me it's legal. Not my favorite method, but certainly the safest for me at certain intersections.

  3. I'm surprised it states: Bicyclists “Shall ride as near to the right curb or edge of the roadway as practical– not on the sidewalk.” The municipal code says it's okay to ride on the sidewalk (basically as long as you're not being intentionally reckless and you are giving pedestrians the right of way). I find that my commute to work consists of: residential streets, bike lanes, bike path, and sidewalks… with a few unavoidable heavily congested, fast moving, city streets. Sometimes, riding on the sidewalk is the sanest way to go (although I try to minimize the distance traveled on them).

  4. Cyclists are generally discouraged from riding on the sidewalk, though like you write there can be instances where it's reasonable to do so, especially if you go at about walking speed (IMO) and / or there aren't many driveways or intersections.

    You sound like you know what you're doing, so you're probably aware that sidewalk cyclists are something like 20 times more likely to get hit by a car, mostly because motorists aren't expecting a fast moving cyclist coming out of the sidewalk at an intersection or driveway.

    There's a cyclist I know who hasn't driven a car since the 1980s. He insists on riding exclusively on the sidewalk because “roads are too dangerous!” As proof, he tells me about his multiple hospitalizations, emergency room visits and broken bones from getting hit by cars — which occur while he rides on the sidewalk.

  5. But it *is* legal to park in bike lanes in California, unless there's a “No Parking” sign posted. The Driver Manual mentions this on p 34: “You may park in a bicycle lane if your vehicle does not block a bicyclist and/or there is not a “No Parking” sign posted.

  6. Not bad.  But, their diagram shows a cyclist trying to share a lane which is substandard in width.

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