Briefing Room: bicycles are considered vehicles for rules of the road

Hi Seal Beach,

Last week an email was forwarded to us, which was sent to a City Council member. See below:

Last Saturday, Linda and I had just started our early morning tandem bicycle ride with a friend whose wife recently passed away. We were pulled over by a Seal Beach police officer on Ocean Avenue just south of Fifth Street and cited for failing to stop at the stop sign at Fifth Street. We rolled through at 10 mph as there was no traffic and no pedestrians. We were helmeted, riding single file with our friend and otherwise being responsible cyclists. Both bikes were pulled over and received a citation by the police officer for this infraction. Officer Montgomery explained there was a California state grant to police to improve bike safety and that traffic officers are assigned some specific days to enforce the laws.

Yes, by the letter of the law, we did violate the vehicle code 22450(a) and failed to stop at a stop sign. Incidentally, while we were being cited, with police motorcycle lights flashing, every bike we saw rolled the stop sign. As with an automobile, these infractions are reported to DMV and a fine paid in advance, traffic school or a court hearing.

Here’s the thing … nearly every day in and around Seal Beach, we witness more and more cars blowing through red lights, speeding, excessive noise, no turn signals, distracted driving on cell phones and aggressive driving. We see expired license tags, unsafe looking vehicles and dark window tints where the driver cannot be seen. This is the unfortunate reality we face daily.

My subject line is “Discretion and Priorities.” In the big scheme of things, it seems rather petty and imbalanced to have ticketed a couple senior citizens on a casual tandem bicycle ride early morning posing zero safety risks in the absence of pedestrian and motor vehicle traffic. It seems more appropriate to focus traffic enforcement priorities on actions that do endanger drivers and the public—effort on helmet compliance, sidewalk riding (especially e-bikes), careless riding practices for bicycles and moreover, the long laundry list of dangerous automobile driving practices and fix-its listed above

My intent here is to simply make you aware of this situation and to voice our views on priorities. The unfortunate part for us is we now have to delay an extended international trip to deal with this. Thanks for listening.


Hi Fred,

You bring up a couple of points that I want to address.

As I’ve written about before, according to the California Vehicle Code, bicycles are considered vehicles for the purpose of following the rules of the road. That means that when riding a bicycle, you are subject to the same rules and regulations as if you were driving a car. For instance, you cannot talk on the phone without a hands-free device, you need lights at night, you must signal when making turning movements, and, as you noted, you must stop at all stop signs.

Traffic safety is a priority for the SBPD. We respond to and investigate traffic collisions almost every day. Some of these involve vehicles vs. bicycles, or bicycles vs. fixed objects. Yes, when a cyclist crashes, we normally handle that as a traffic collision, even if a motor vehicle is not involved.

So why do we do enforcement?  It is widely accepted (and if you want the studies, please email me), that the best way to help prevent injury traffic collisions is though directed enforcement. As Officer Montgomery mentioned, we have been awarded a grant through the California Office of Traffic Safety which provides funds for certain equipment and for directed enforcement operations.

May is bicycle safety month, and the OTS grant requires us to conduct enforcement operations which target the primary collision factors which commonly result in traffic collisions when violated. Failing to stop at stop signs is a primary collision factor that results in collisions.

In your email you mention discretion. I know you are wondering if our ability to exercise discretion when conducting enforcement operations is hampered by the fact that we receive funding from OTS. I can assure you that it does not. The OTS grant does not require us to write a certain number of citations or prohibit us from giving warnings. That being written, we do have to enforce the law equally and cannot be selective in our enforcement efforts. You insinuate that our efforts would be better spent not issuing citations to senior citizens. We must enforcement the law equally regardless of a violators age or other demographic information.

You suggest that our time would be better spent enforcing motor vehicle violations. I can assure you that our Traffic Bureau enforces all areas of the California Vehicle Code, including violations committed by motor vehicle drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians. Our intent is not to delay your international trip, or to inconvenience the community, but to help keep our roadways safe for all users.

As any regular reader of this weekly column knows, we direct our enforcement efforts in three ways. First, if we notice that there is an increase in collisions or near misses in a certain area, we will spend time educating and enforcing the law there. Second, if we have an increase in collisions caused by a certain collision factor (like distracted driving, stop sign violations, U-turns, etc.), we will increase our efforts for those violations. Third, when we receive complaints from the community about dangerous intersections or violations, we will increase our presence in that area. We regularly receive complaints from Old Town residents about cars and bikes running stop signs on Ocean Avenue. For all the reasons I listed above, Officer Montgomery was monitoring that intersection when he noticed the violation you described.

To prepare to write this week’s column, I went back and looked at topics I have written about in the past. Several times I’ve addressed near misses or collisions which have been caused by cyclists not following the rules of the road. Since you mention priorities, I can tell you that our priorities at the Police Department is always traffic safety, regardless of what type of roadway user you are.

With that, I hope this has illustrated some of the reasons why you received a citation. Fred, of course, you can contact your district council member directly if you have a concern, and you are always welcome to address these concerns with us.

Seal Beach, if you have traffic concerns about specific locations or violations, please let us know and we will dedicate our resources to keeping your neighborhoods safe. If you have questions, email us at today!