More and more people are riding bikes. There are a lot of benefits in doing so. The exercise is good for the body and mind, gas money is saved, parking is not a problem and it helps to clean the air and reduce congestion, to name a few.
Did you know that bike riders are subject to specific provisions in the California Vehicle Code? Most people don’t. A bicycle is defined as “a device upon which any person may ride, propelled exclusively by human power through a belt, chain or gears and having one or more wheels.”
Every person riding a bicycle has all the rights and is subject to all the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle, including the provisions of law dealing with driving under the influence of alcoholic beverages or drugs (California Vehicle Code 21200).
Patrick Beighley and Robert Williamson are Traffic Safety Unit motorcycle officers in the Los Angeles Police Department West Traffic Division. It is their job to teach, in addition to enforce, the rules of the road for any vehicle, whether automobile or bicycle.
Here are important things for everyone, child or adult, to remember while riding a bike.
— Always go with the traffic flow and keep to the far side of the road. If riding with other people you must be in a straight line.
“When we were growing up our parents told us to ride against traffic,” says Beighley. “It’s a violation to ride against the flow of traffic unless you’re on a one-way street. Signals and signs are going to be facing you as you approach them as opposed to going in the other direction.
“Plus people are coming out of driveways and side streets. They are not going to be looking that way but back towards the traffic flow where the closest hazard is, so they wouldn’t see you riding the other way.”
Cyclists riding against the traffic flow are often hit by a car at a corner where the car is making a right turn. This and other wrong-way driving is associated with 21 percent of injuries and eight percent of fatalities in bike-car crashes.
— Stop at all stop signs. If you were riding your bike on a street and came to a red light, you would stop, wouldn’t you? The same must happen for stop signs. Failure to do so results in about ten percent of the fatalities in bike-car crashes.
— Always wear a helmet. California law requires that persons under the age of 18 wear an approved helmet when operating or riding as a passenger on a bicycle. Eighty percent of bike-related deaths involve head injuries. Helmets reduce the risk of head or brain injury by 85 percent.
“Most responsible adults ride with a helmet on because, obviously, if you fall, like on the bike path, you lose control of your bike and hit the sand and go down, and if you hit your head on that cement you’re not going to be getting up,” says Beighley. “Whereas, you will protect yourself if you’re wearing a helmet.
“It’s really difficult for us because a lot of parents don’t see the value in that and say, ‘I don’t have to wear one so my kid isn’t going to wear one.’ So who gets the ticket?
“If the child is under 18 the parents get the ticket. It’s very rare that it’s going to happen and usually it’s a situation where an accident has occurred, the child has crashed and hit their head and then everybody is crying and picking up the pieces.
“You can’t replay and do it right the next time. You have to do it right the first time. So our contention is just do it now — be safe.”
“Helmets mess up our hair,” adds Officer Williamson. “We sweat under the helmet. We understand all of that. So you’re just going to have to adapt and save the brain center.”
— A bike with someone pedaling it is a moving vehicle. Use the same precautions as when driving a car.
— Don’t dart out of driveways or from between parked cars. This action, which can result in a collision with a passing car, causes about 15 percent of all bicyclist injuries and fatalities in car-bike crashes. Most of these crashes occur during daytime on quiet two-lane streets.
— Be careful when checking traffic and don’t swerve when looking over your shoulder. A sudden move to the left without yielding to cars causes about 15 percent of all bike injuries and fatalities in collisions with cars.
— Pedestrians have the right-of-way on walkways. Pedestrians always have the right-of-way on walkways. By City of Los Angeles Municipal Code, you must not ride on a sidewalk with “willful and wanton disregard for safety.” Other cities may not allow sidewalk riding, so always check with the local laws. Los Angeles Municipal Code 80.75 disallows the riding of bicycles on Ocean Front Walk.
There are additional laws and regulations that should be followed.
Bicycle safety is an important issue and there are Web sites for more information, such as www.bi cyclela.org and www.dot.org, the City of Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) Bike Program.
Traffic laws, including those for bicycles, are supposed to be laws that people comply with because they know it’s the right thing to do.
“It’s not the penal code, it’s not like murder,” says Beighley. “Voluntary compliance is what we are looking for in traffic.
“It’s not something where we hold a hammer over somebody’s head and say, ‘You do this.’ If everybody just voluntarily complied with the law, then things would go smoother and we wouldn’t have all the traffic problems that we have now. People just don’t do that. They just do what they want.”
Of course people may not be sent to prison for traffic violations but they will still get tickets and are fined.
“Then they get mad at us but we could care less,” adds Bleighley.
Williamson and Beighley have been on the job 32 years and 34 years respectively. They have seen a lot of changes through the years in respect to the attitude of drivers.
“The aggressive drivers are getting worse and worse because, ‘It’s all about me and screw you,'” says Beighley. “There are too many young drivers who don’t care because their parents didn’t care.
“We have the third and fourth generation. When I was a kid growing up, the adults at the time cared about other people and other people’s property. Do people do that today? They could care less. ‘It’s all about me. Let’s build a wall around our house. I don’t even know who my neighbors are. I do whatever I want. Don’t bug me.’ That’s not living in society.”
“If something bad happens, they say, ‘Well, it’s not my fault,'” says Williamson. “They transfer the blame, the respect for others, whether it’s in their driving or for their property and even the rights of others — ‘I can do what I want.’ But to a point. Everyone has their own freedoms. When you start stepping on other people’s freedoms, you’ve crossed the line. That’s where some people just don’t seem to get it. It transfers a lot when they get behind the wheel of a car.”
The officers spend a lot of time out in the field giving traffic safety classes to a variety of groups, including grade schools and colleges, senior citizens and businesses. Currently they are conducting a class for DHL (a global delivery service).
Did you know that you can get help in installing a baby seat in your car? Beighley has a national certification as a child safety seat instructor and Williamson is a technician. They will do inspections and help with installations by appointment.
To reach the Traffic Safety Unit and for more information, (213) 473-0215.