We have found that the single most common cause of bicycle collision accidents is the Right Hook, when a car turning right runs into a bicyclist on its right in the process of making its turn.
The laws applying to this scenario are a good example of how the vehicle code provisions that were originally written for cars can create difficulties when advocating for the bicycle accident client. California Vehicle Code section 21754(b), which was enacted in 1959, provides that passing on the right is prohibited except when, for example, in a residential or business district (where most accidents occur) and there is “sufficient width for two or more lines of moving vehicles in the direction of travel.”
Then, likely in recognition to the increased number of bicyclists riding on city streets, the California legislature enacted CVC section 21755, which provides in subsection (a) that a driver of a vehicle (which includes bicycles) may pass another vehicle on the right so long as it is safe to do so. CVC 21755(b) goes on to provide that nothing in section prohibits bicycles from riding in bicycle lanes.
You might therefore think that at least when a car turns right into a bicyclist that is on the car’s right and riding in a painted “Class II” bike lane, liability would be pretty clear cut. Indeed, sometimes we do not get much pushback when our bicycle clients are run into by right turning cars when the bicycle is in a bike lane because of the protections offered by CVC section 21755(b). However, certain local police departments who have tended to take a hostile approach toward bicyclists in their town, and some insurance claims representatives, often go out of their way to fault bicyclists anyway in this scenario if they feel the bicycle was riding too fast in the bike lane for the conditions, in violation of California’s basic speed law.
No person shall drive a vehicle upon a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable or prudent having due regard for weather, visibility, the traffic on, and the surface and width of, the highway, and in no event at a speed which endangers the safety of persons or property.
Therefore, sometimes in order to obtain fair recoveries for our bicycle accident clients who are passing cars on the right in a bike lane and a car turns into the lane, our attorneys need to establish that the bicyclist was traveling at a reasonable speed for the conditions even if they were in a bike lane. Two lesser known Vehicle Code sections we use to our advantage in these cases are section 22100(a) which requires that cars making right turns do so from the right most portion of the lane, including the bike lane, and section 21717, which requires motor vehicles who wish to turn right across a bicycle lane to enter the lane first before making the right turn. Finally, we will also rely on CVC section 21209, which prohibits motor vehicles from entering a bike lane to make a right turn more than 200 feet before the intersection.
The situation can get trickier when a bicyclist passes slow or stopped cars on the right when there is no bike lane and is hit by a right-turning car or bus. At that point, the debate often boils down to whether there was ample space for the bicyclist to pass the slower motor traffic on the right, how well traveled the road was by bicyclists, and the speed of the bicyclists, to determine whether the driver who turns right in front of the passing bicyclists was negligent, or legally responsible for causing the accident.
The Attorneys at The Zinn Law Firm have handled and resolved literally dozens of Right Hook car on bike cases. We know how to advocate for our clients who have been injured even when they were not riding in a bicycle lane. In these cases, we will show that the roadways where our clients were injured were often well-traveled by bicyclists and motorist should have been on notice to check before turning right even in the absence of a bike lane. If the roadway is a designated “Class III” bike route with signs and painted markings on the roadway showing that bicyclists are encouraged to ride on that road, it can be easier to prove the driver should have exercised more care before turning right without looking.
We also work with the best, most objective and well-regarded bicycle safety experts who can comment on safe bicycling practices and whether there was sufficient room for a bicyclist to safely pass slowed auto traffic on the right in absence of a pained bike lane.