Get a ticket for not signaling? Maybe you didn’t really break the law

Maybe you don’t have to signal your turns after all.

Turns out drivers don’t.

Like many Californians, I have long labored under the assumption that all road users — motorists and bicyclists alike — are required to signal every turn or lane change.

Something many, if not most, fail to do.

After all, there’s no point in tipping off total strangers about where you’re headed.

Still, it’s not uncommon for bike riders to be ticketed for failing to stick an arm out — preferably with multiple fingers extended — to let those around them know which way they’re going to go.

But as it turns out, it may not be illegal.

The section of the vehicle code that specifies our right to ride on the roadway, CVC 21200, clearly states “a person riding a bicycle… has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle….”

In other words, any law that applies to a driver applies to a bike rider. And drivers don’t have to signal their turns unless it affects other vehicles.

But don’t take my word for it. It says so right here in CVC 22107

22107.  No person shall turn a vehicle from a direct course or move right or left upon a roadway until such movement can be made with reasonable safety and then only after the giving of an appropriate signal in the manner provided in this chapter in the event any other vehicle may be affected by the movement.

So if your turn doesn’t interfere with the movement of other road users, a signal isn’t required.

For instance, if you’re making a left turn onto a street with no vehicle traffic, there should be no legal requirement to signal. The only exception would be if there were cars in front or behind you on the first street whose movement might be affected by knowing if you’re going to turn or go straight.

Or say you’re turning right onto a street with a designated bike lane. A turn signal shouldn’t be necessary, even if there are cars on the street you’re turning onto because they aren’t legally allowed to drive in a bike lane, and therefore shouldn’t be affected by your movement.

Of course, just because it’s legal doesn’t mean you won’t get a ticket for it.

But as bike lawyer Bob Mionske pointed out recently, if you get a ticket for something like that and you can afford to fight it, you probably should.

There’s a good chance that the officer who wrote the ticket won’t show up in court and the case will be dismissed. Or even if he or she does, the officer may not clearly remember the case — which is yet another reason to never argue with a cop so your case doesn’t stand out in his mind.

But assuming he does, ask the officer to diagram the location of every vehicle on the street at the time of the alleged infraction. And explain exactly which ones were affected by your failure to signal, and how.

If he can’t do it, the case should be dismissed.

Key words being, should be.

Because as we should all know by now, the courts don’t always bend over backwards to ensure justice for those of us on two wheels.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t signal your turns.

You should.

It’s smart. It’s courteous. And it’s usually safer, though there are times when prudence dictates keeping both hands on your handlebars.

And lord knows, you don’t want to argue with Prudence.

But you may not be breaking the law after all. Even if you don’t lift a finger.

Update: Richard Masoner of Cyclelicious points out that this law could be read to refer to movement of the vehicle, rather than a requirement to signal. The problem is, the law was written in the 1950s, evidently prior to the invention of punctuation, which could have clarified the meaning.


Then again, if you ride in Alhambra, you may be breaking the law.

But only if you live there.

That city is one of a rapidly dwindling list of towns that still requires registering your bike, even if does only cost a dollar to do so.

But despite what their city ordinance says, you can’t legally be ticked for riding your bike in Alhambra if you live in another city and haven’t licensed it in the city you live in. If your city even requires it.

That’s because their law is illegal.

The section of the state vehicle code that allows cities to require bike licenses, CVC 39002, clearly states that any such licensing requirement applies only to residents of that particular city. And therefore, may not be applied to anyone biking in or through that city who doesn’t actually live there.

So you live in Alhambra and get a ticket for not licensing your bike, pay it.

If not, once again, fight it.


Laemmle Theater president Greg Laemmle, your host for Team LACBC at Climate Ride

Laemmle Theater president Greg Laemmle, your host for Team LACBC at Climate Ride

Here’s your chance to take part in the upcoming Climate Ride for free.

And maybe even have your required fundraising done for you.

Laemmle Theaters invites you to ride along with company president and LACBC board member Greg Laemmle on the five-day fundraising ride through Northern California to benefit sustainable transit and green energy.

Four winners will have their entry fee paid as members of Team LACBC, and win a free pass for two at any Laemmle Theater for the remainder of this year.

And one of those four winners will receive the grand prize, meaning the company will contribute the minimum required fundraising amount of $2400 on your behalf.

Which means you’ll not only ride for free, but all your required fundraising will be done for you. Of course, you’re still welcome to raise more money on your own; it is a good cause, after all.

You just have to fill out the simple form on the link above, and explain why you want to ride with Greg.

Entries are due by April 5th.


Finally, after riding through the Biking Black Hole both ways on my way too and from a meeting in Downtown L.A. on Wednesday night, I have a suggestion for their new city motto:

Beverly Hills. Where the bike lane ends.


  1. billdsd says:

    When citing CVC 39002, you should probably also note that CVC 21 prohibits local governments from overriding CVC 39002. Some people don’t understand that. This is especially true of people who hate bicyclists, though they tend to have difficulty understanding almost everything.

  2. Love these posts (since it’s the topic I’m presently studying in my ongoing public safety training). As such here’s another exception I just learned — though it pertains to pedestrians, not cyclists:

    A violation of section 21955 of the California Vehicle Code (commonly known as “jaywalking”) can only occur when crossing a roadway between two intersections that are controlled by traffic signal devices, and/or a police officer.

    What that means is if you enter a roadway to cross it on foot between two intersections, but only one of the intersections (or none of them) has either a traffic signal or a cop directing traffic, you are in fact in compliance with the Pedestrians Outside Crosswalks law, CVC 21954(a), and should not be cited for “jaywalking.”

    I always thought if one crossed any road in the city at any place other than a marked or unmarked crosswalk one was committing that infraction.

    • bikinginla says:

      Interesting. For some reason, the DMV webpages aren’t loading for me today. But I wonder if there’s also a distance exemption, requiring that those signalized intersections must be so close apart in order for the law to apply. It would be absurd if it applied in rural areas where the signals might be several miles apart.

      • There’s no distance between signaled intersections explicitly stated in the section, so the presumption is that the implied baseline length between them is whatever the measurement is for a standard city block — give or take, of course, since there’s so much variation on block length throughout the greater Los Angeles area.

        Intersection accessibility and proximity is definitely the key. It would take one seriously badge-heavy crackerjack hardass of an officer to cite someone out in the sticks for jaywalking between two signaled intersections that might be out of view.

        • bikinginla says:

          Agreed. I’m thinking of that case down south a few years back, where a mother was cited after her son was killed by a drunk driver after she led her kids across a roadway after getting off a bus, because the nearest signal was blocks away.

        • Evan says:

          Or you could be like the LA Sheriffs officer who for some reason was in Santa Monica, and turned on the siren after my wife walked with our daughter across Santa Monica Blvd at an uncontrolled intersection. There was no marked crosswalk, but it’s of course perfectly legal to cross at such a place–and cars must give the right of way to a pedestrian. There were no cars approaching when she crossed, but this Sherrif saw fit to speed up from the light a block away when it turned green, put on his siren, and turn down the street to follow my wife and scold her for walking across the street.

          When she said that it was safe, and legal, to cross, he said “you can make that decision–your daughter can’t”–implying that my wife was putting our daughter’s life in danger.

          Then again, maybe it’s best that I wasn’t there to hear that jerk talk to them like that.

  3. Robert Prinz says:

    I wish the CVC had a turn signal exception for cyclists like Iowa, when both hands are needed to control the bike:

    “A signal of intention to turn right or left
    shall be given during not less than the last one
    hundred (100) feet traveled by the bicycle before
    turning, provided that a signal by hand and arm need
    not be given if the hand is needed in the control or
    operation of the bicycle.”

    Also, I understand that in the CVC bicyclists have “all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle” but from my reading of the turn signal requirement it sounds like drivers and cyclists only need to signal their turns to other drivers, but not to people on bikes (or pedestrians).

    I’m also curious as to whether drivers stopped at stop lights are required to signal even while waiting for the green. Some do, but many don’t signal until they actually start turning, As a bicyclist I want to know whether I should position myself behind the car (if they are going straight), to the right of it (if they are turning left), or to the left of it (if they are turning right). Too many times I have been behind a non-signaling car waiting at a light and had to swerve around to their right after the started making a left turn, which put me in conflict with drivers across the intersection who were not expecting any straight-through traffic.

    Personally I have gotten into the habit of signaling turns whenever possible while biking, even on a deserted road. I know my senses are not 100% so it is not always the cars, bikes, and pedestrians I do see that I need to worry about, it’s often about the ones I don’t see.

    • bikinginla says:

      I’m with you. I signal every turn when I can safely take my hand off the handlebars, just to stay in the habit and not forget it sometime when I shouldn’t. Then again, I also signal every turn and lane change when I’m driving.

  4. Someday, all motorists will be also be experienced cyclists and they will know that a flick of the left or right elbow means the cyclist is heading that direction. Someday.

  5. Ted, your interpretation of 22107 is incorrect. It doesn’t say you need to signal only when you’re interfering with the movement of another vehicle. It says to *turn* only if you’re not interfering with the movement of another vehicle — in other words, you’re not allowed to just cut in front of somebody. You can only make a turn — after you’ve ensured you’re not cutting somebody off — after you signal.

    We have a guy at one of the local Bay Area news stations who regularly shows “People Behaving Badly,” mostly in traffic situations. Here’s one of his episodes on turn signals

    • bikinginla says:

      You may be right. Now that I read it again, I can see where it could refer to movement of the vehicle, rather than the use of a turn signal.

      It’s just a pity this law was written back in the 1950s, prior to the invention of punctuation, which could have clarified the meaning.

  6. Joe B says:

    Also note that your turn signal must be given continuously during the last 100 feet prior to the turn.

    So as I read it, that means that legally, when you approach a red light but plan to turn, you must signal 100 feet ahead, then brake and control the bike one-handed, then stand there waiting for the green with your arm sticking out.

    Braking one-handed is especially difficult near intersections, where accelerating cars have ripped up the pavement. Venice Blvd, I’m looking at you.

  7. Bob Richards says:

    The next cyclist I see stop at a stop sign will be the first one.

    • bikinginla says:

      Then you’re clearly not paying attention. I see that every day, and observe every stop sign when I ride. And I also see most motorists fail to some to a complete stop — if they even slow down — right here in my own residential neighborhood, posing far more risk to other than even any bike rider.

      So pot, meet kettle.

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