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What does it mean to 'take the lane'?

You may know that a bike riding at traffic speeds is allowed to use the lane, while slower bikes are required by California law to stick as close as they can to the right side. This way traffic can safely get around and a cyclist going 10 mph doesn't impede a growing line of cars trying to go 55 mph.

All that said, the law does allow even slow bikes to "take the lane" in certain situations. This is often misunderstood by drivers and even by law enforcement officers.

Essentially, it means that specific situations allow cyclists to move away from the right side of the road and use the entire lane. Drivers must respect this, even if it means they have to slow down. Examples of situations that allow cyclists to take the lane include the following:

  • If the cyclist has to avoid some hazard on the right shoulder, like an illegally parked car
  • If the cyclist is planning to turn left and is preparing for that turn
  • If the cyclist is passing another vehicle, such as a car waiting to turn right
  • If the cyclist is moving over to get out of a right-hand turn lane
  • If the road is just realistically too narrow for both a bike and a car to share it anyway

Unfortunately, when people do not understand how the traffic laws work, it often leads to accidents and mistakes. It's important for cyclists who have been hit and injured to know all of the legal options they have to seek out financial compensation.

Source: California Bicycle Coalition, "California Bicycle Laws," accessed Jan. 11, 2018

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