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Bicycles, motorcycles, and the right of way

If California motorists near an intersection where another vehicle is approaching, the motorist must determine who has the right of way. If the other vehicle has the right of way, the motorist will yield to that other vehicle. The concept of right of way applies to any party on the road, such as cars, trucks and pedestrians. Some people, however, may not be familiar with how right of way applies to smaller vehicles like motorcycles or bicycles.  

The concept of “right of way” is one of the most important rules of the road because a failure to grant a party the right of way can lead to an auto accident and catastrophic injury. Even a bike rider must know if another vehicle or a pedestrian has the right of way before riding out across an intersection or making a turn. According to Safemotorist.com, both bicycles and motorcycles are subject to right of way rules.


Bicycles might seem to be exempt from traditional rules of the road since they do not possess a motorized engine and are propelled solely by human effort. However, as a bicycle is still considered a vehicle under law, bicycle riders must still grant other parties the right of way. If a bicyclist approaches an intersection to make a left turn, the rider is to yield to approaching traffic. Bike riders are also to grant pedestrians at crosswalks the right of way. Additionally, bicycles must yield to construction vehicles, ambulances and fire trucks.


Because motorcycles have the ability to keep pace with other vehicles on the road, a motorist is more likely to encounter a motorcycle while driving. Like any other vehicle, a motorcycle must yield the right of way to other parties. In turn, other vehicles must yield to a motorcycle if that vehicle has the right of way. However, according to AARP, the smaller size of a motorcycle can hinder the ability of other motorists to grant a right of way. Some drivers do not see a motorcycle approaching until it is too late to prevent an accident.

Additionally, the smaller size of bicycles and motorcycles can lead drivers into misjudging how much space to give them. Motorcycles in particular are granted the full width of a traffic lane, so no automobile should try and share the lane with them. Also, motorcycles stop and turn more rapidly than cars or trucks, which can cause an accident if a vehicle is following too close behind the motorcycle.

Understanding who gets the right of way on the road is crucial to preventing catastrophic accidents on the road. This applies to bike riders as well as other motorists.


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Haberkorn & Associates
2055 Woodside Rd., Suite 155
Redwood City, CA 94061

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