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Right turns - how come so many drivers do not know this?

Original post made by Driver on Mar 7, 2010

Cars turning right need to pull into the bike lane when the lines break, not turn right when they are at the corner. This is why the bike lane lines are broken approaching the corner.

Also, it is illegal to drive into the bike lane (ie: if a car is stopped in front of you and you want to go around it).

I hope this has informed some uniformed drivers because I see people turn at the corner too often.

Comments (32)

Posted by Joan, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 7, 2010 at 10:36 pm

Also, please merge safely into the bike lane. If there is a bicyclist in the bike lane, don't try to cut her off at the corner before turning right. Merge in behind and wait your turn. Thank you.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 8, 2010 at 5:45 am

Cars don't need to pull into the bike lane when the line is broken - that is not the law. The broken line indicates it is permissable under safe conditions. This is a huge difference than what you stated.

Agree on other point - it is illegal to pass on the right using the shoulder or bike lane. If a car is at an intersection waiting to turn left, you cannot use the shoulder or bike lane to go around the car and continue in a straight direction.

Posted by Joan, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 8, 2010 at 7:57 am

Dad - you are wrong. Cars are legally required to merge in to the bike lane before turning right at a corner or a driveway. The cops should ticket you if you do not do this.

According to the California Driver's handbook (and vehicle code): "A bicycle lane is shown by a solid white line along either side of the street, four or more feet from the curb. The white line will usually be broken near the corner and the words "BIKE LANE" will be painted in the lane. When you are making a right turn and are within 200 feet of the corner or other driveway entrance, you must enter the bicycle lane to make the turn. Do not drive in the bicycle lane at any other time."

Web Link
Web Link

Posted by bikes2work, a resident of Santa Rita (Los Altos)
on Mar 8, 2010 at 9:13 am

Thanks for the links Joan. That is really surprising. What if the bike lane is occupied by a line of many bikes? Does the driver stop in the travel lane 200 feet from the corner until the bike lane is clear?

It seems like the law from 1977 could use an upgrade. Hey Joe Simitian! Take a break from your new cell phone law and fix this existing problem.

Posted by Driver, a resident of Duveneck School
on Mar 8, 2010 at 9:24 am

I took Driver's Training & Driver's Education at Paly in the 70s when I learned to drive so we learned about bicycle lanes. Perhaps those who are unaware of the bicycle lane rules are not Palo Alto natives because the DMV does not highlight this rule since not all towns have bicycle lanes.

As per Joan's second link:

Turning Across Bicycle Lane

21717. Whenever it is necessary for the driver of a motor vehicle to cross a bicycle lane that is adjacent to his lane of travel to make a turn, the driver shall drive the motor vehicle into the bicycle lane prior to making the turn and shall make the turn pursuant to Section 22100.

Added Ch. 751, Stats. 1976. Effective January 1, 1977.

Posted by R Wray, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 8, 2010 at 9:39 am

With a little thought and skill, drivers should be able to judge their and the bicyclist's speed so that they can either pass and make the right turn well enough in front of the bike or fall in behind the bike and make the turn. Unthoughtful drivers pull up beside the bike at the intersection and grind their brake rotors in the bicyclist's ears. Besides shaking up the biker, the driver risks being rear ended.

Posted by Joan, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 8, 2010 at 9:47 am

Don't bother trying to judge the bicyclist's speed. Do not try to pass if there is a bicyclist anywhere near a corner where you are turning right. Slow down and merge in behind. Very simple.

Posted by SteveU, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 8, 2010 at 10:04 am

SteveU is a registered user.

Has the DMV defied the laws of Mathematics and Physics? How to you turn a typical vehicle with a 15-25 Turning RADIUS into a 12 foot wide driveway from the Curb?

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 8, 2010 at 10:22 am

For this very reason and the safety of the bicyclists, there is a turn left only sign at Churchill/Alma between 7.30 and 8.00 in the school commute morning, only school often starts later. There are many, many cyclists in that bike lane and trying to turn right across them would be dangerous, if nigh on impossible.

Posted by Morris, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 8, 2010 at 12:42 pm

Didn't this "merge into the bike land rule" just come into existence maybe ten years ago, or so? If it did, then it's quite possible that people who got their license before that time never really "got the memo". There are new traffic laws that come into effect every year. Sometimes the local papers carry an article about these new laws, but there is no obligation for them to do so.

It really would be nice if the DMV would email people these changes, before they go into effect.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 8, 2010 at 12:46 pm

I stand corrected. However you won't see me driving 200' down a bicycle lane unless it's necessary. I would rather pull into the bike lane closer to the corner and then make the right turn.

Am I breaking the law? Technically I guess so. From a practical point of view, probably not.

The point being is to pull over to the right so as not to block traffic that will proceed straight or left.

Posted by Driver, a resident of Duveneck School
on Mar 8, 2010 at 12:47 pm


Per my posting above, it's been in effect since 1977.

Posted by Joan, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 8, 2010 at 1:11 pm

Dad - the point of this law is to stop cars from cutting off bicyclists at corners. Blocking cars that are going straight is irrelevant. Cars that turn right at the last second often misjudge the speed and position of bicyclists in the bike lane and have a very good chance of hitting them. If cars properly merge before turning, then the bicyclists are much safer.

You don't need to drive in the bike lane for the whole 200 feet, but you do have to give yourself enough space to merge safely before turning.

And yes, this law has been in effect for longer than most of you have been driving, so there is no excuse for not knowing it. The law is published in both the state vehicle code and the driver's handbook. I know it was in both the written driver's test and the road test back when I took them.

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 8, 2010 at 1:25 pm


Could drivers in California (especially in this area) learn how to USE THEIR BLINKER before they change lanes?

I am shocked by the amount of bad drivers in this area. They don't use blinkers...they cut people off...they drive wayyyyyy over the speed limit (or wayyyyy under)...and they fail to yield the "right of way" when they are supposed to. Plus, those who are guilty of bad driving are usually the ones who are upset at those who do obey the law.


The traffic and poorly constructed roads around California and the Bay Area are bad enough without having to worry about bad drivers too. I have almost been hit on the way to work four times...and every time this was due to the other driver failing to pay attention (changing lanes without properly looking...or a driver talking on her cell phone).

I would gladly help pay for a billboard on 101, 280 or Central Expressway/Alma St. that says:


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 8, 2010 at 3:34 pm

My MO is all about bike safety. I give bike riders plenty of space - more so than others. I ride my bike over Stanford on most weekdays and early weekend mornings. There are plenty of clueless drivers out there.

BTW - I've been hit by a car on my bike. I survived bike was a goner. So I know exactly what the dangers are out here.

Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 8, 2010 at 5:12 pm

It's worth noting that some cyclists ride the wrong way in bike lanes. Very scary for a motorist turning right to find a bicycle coming toward you on the street you're turning into -- especially at night.

I also see a lot of cyclists (and pedestrians) with no lights and dark clothes.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 8, 2010 at 6:08 pm

Paly students are notorious for riding on the wrong side on Churchill after school.

Posted by Toady, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 8, 2010 at 10:15 pm

There are bad cyclists just like there are bad drivers. For example, most cyclists on Bryant seem to fly through intersections with 4 way stop signs. If we're going to consider red light cameras for cars, then let's also do the same for cyclists.

Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, so to speak.

Posted by anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 8, 2010 at 11:07 pm

Actually, check the drivers handbook. I believe you are incorrect. I had this disagreement with a former boyfriend who worked as an auto insurance adjuster (he won the argument). He said you can merge into bike lane well before the broken line because its a certain distance (I forget exact amnt, maybe 50 ft). He lives in Orange county, and he said if everyone waited til the broken lines, the traffic would never move.

Posted by JLS parent, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 9, 2010 at 1:55 am

This forced mixing of cars and bikes is one more reason why Palo Alto and so many other cities are dangerous for bicyclists. It's actually becoming increasingly common in other places around the world to do the opposite, i.e. to mark the entire lane in front of a traffic light for bicycles. The cars are then forced to wait behind the bikes until they get going. Of course, these places have a lot more bicyclists, and no dangerous right-on-red laws.

Posted by Commuter, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 9, 2010 at 8:39 am

You know, as much as we debate this and cite traffic laws, the real offenders will never read this. Those drivers will keep rolling around town, ploughing through intersections, talking on cell phones, cutting off bicyclists, etc. Some drivers are just too casual about driving! I agree with the person who wants to put up billboards to remind drivers about the rules. In fact, I think the DMV should start a whole ad campaign designed to re-educate drivers about some of the most important yet most ignored driving laws. Let's face it, the last time most drivers studied the driver rules was when they were 16, and knew the difference between sine and cosine. Memories fade, but no one should forget driving rules and regulations. We all depend on each other knowing them and abiding by them.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 9, 2010 at 9:07 am

Other countries remind drivers of traffic rules by having PSA on tv along with the commercials. We can all remember the jingles for products we never buy, and in the same way we should be able to remember the snappy jingle for driving rules. These could also be put on some of the freeway signs when nothing more important is going on (better than 20 mins to SFO when we really know in traffic it is going to take 35 mins).

"Mirror, signal, change."

"Clunk, Click, every trip."

"When you want to cross the street, first use your eyes and then your feet".

Posted by PJ, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 9, 2010 at 12:09 pm

You better start really stopping before you turn right. When Palo Alto installs it's red light cameras the largest number of tickets will be given to those who slide round the corner on a red light without coming to a complete stop.

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 9, 2010 at 1:40 pm

I'm not getting behind a bike when I'm turning right and they are going straight. They need to be back by the curb so I can go safely around them. But so often they pull as far out as they can making it impossible for me to make my legal turn on the red. Of course thats when they aren't smack in the middle of the driving lane. The bicyclists in this town are extremely rude and do not heed the rules and then get angry when drivers don't drive perfectly. The roads were built for cars, not for bikes. Drivers pay taxes through the DMV to upkeep the roads, not bicyclists. I drive the speed limit, I actually stop at stop signs and yellow lights (unlike bikes), I yield to pedestrians and bicyclists and other cars. But, I should not have to drive behind a bike doing 15 mph in a 25 mph zone because he's too rude to ride on the side of the road where he belongs.

By the way, none of you are Lance Armstrong. Put normal pants on. At least that way when I am stuck behind you I wouldn't have to look at your....well, never mind.

Posted by mom, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 9, 2010 at 4:28 pm

Crescent Park Dad,
I appreciate when people express an opinion and accede a point gracefully when they are wrong (as you did). One thing I want to make very certain to repeat, since you may have misunderstood ---

You were worried about having to travel 200' in a bike lane -- this would be illegal. You do not have to worry about running afoul of the law by avoiding this -- You only pull into the bike lane near the corner, where the lines go from solid to dotted. I've never seen that run for 200'.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 9, 2010 at 4:33 pm

Anon - if there is no bike lane, then a bicycle has the legal right to use the roadway. Bicycle riders are subject to all rules of the road just as automobiles and such.

I have yet to encounter any rider who insists on riding down the middle of the road.

Of course I think any bike rider who chooses to ride his/her bike on Embarcadero (instead of using the sidewalk) has a death wish. I don't care if they have right to be in the lane or not - they are asking for some idiot to run them over (especially at night when visibility is poor).

I am a bike advocate but I too can't stand rude bike riders. For example, the bike riders who insist on riding 2 or 3 across in a bike lane - where they end up in the traffic lane as well. They know you're behind them, but they take their time getting out of the traffic lane.

But to be fair, we have our share of rude drivers (rude to bike riders and auto drivers alike). True story - I was on my bike heading up Kingsley towards El Camino. Ramona dead-end's at Kingsley...I'm on my bike and a jerk in a BMW, yakking on his cell phone comes out of Ramona, doesn't even stop at the stop sign and is also on the wrong side of the street and turns into my lane (and me). I yell at him so he'll see me - he flips me off. Nice. That kind of driver is going to kill either a pedestrian, bicyclist or another driver...

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 9, 2010 at 4:36 pm

@ Mom: gracias...

Posted by Concerned, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 10, 2010 at 7:19 am

This is a good discussion and think we should kindly remind others of laws when they are broken. I also see bike riders running stop signs, crossing streets illegally, and riding bikes through pedestrian underpasses (when they are clearly marked "Walk Bikes"). Both drivers and riders need to be reminded about laws and following them.

Posted by Yikes, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 10, 2010 at 2:45 pm

And it's not just bikes and cars.

One week ago, 7 p.m., dark, right in front of JLS: kid on a skateboard tooling in the bike lane rips through a red light and manages to dump it maybe 10 shy of intimate contact with a car. Skateboard smacks the car's tire, ricochets through the intersection. Kid picks up cell phone (was he talking at the time?), retrieves skateboard, rolls on through the dark.

Posted by so Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 11, 2010 at 7:09 am


btw, You are not Mario Andretti, so stop trying to make illegal right turns in front of bikes. You cant legally turn right on red if it means turning in front of a bike going straight.

Posted by Mom, a resident of Duveneck School
on Mar 11, 2010 at 11:21 pm

I don't care about the bicyclists following the traffic rules - they only risk their lives. I am more concerned about car drivers obeying traffic rules.

Posted by Anon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 12, 2010 at 12:10 am

Like anyone in Palo Alto cares about the law anymore. Last night i was driving to the Post Office to drop something in the after hours bin and a car just ran the stop sign right in front of me going west on Homer at Cowper.

It was after dark so my lights were on, the guy just shot through the intersection only slightly slowing down, and then hitting the accelerator and shooting on through.

Just about every day now I see people just slowing down when they go through stop signs. Also the way people will talk in their cars to other cars or people on the street and block traffic. What is wrong with people?

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