Bicyclists and cars share the roads in Sonoma County

Sonoma County with its stunning views along the rocky coast and through wine country is a top destination for cyclists around the world. Bicycling is becoming a more popular sport every year, leading to calls for both cars and bicycles to follow the rules of the road to stay safe.

After a spike in fatal bicycle accidents in the county in 2012, veteran riders and members of cycling clubs offered etiquette for navigating the challenging and beautiful roads and reminded people to use common sense in choosing when and where to ride to maximize safety.

Three Feet for Safety law enacted

California became one of 22 states and the District of Columbia to enact a law mandating a wider buffer zone when a car passes a bicycle on the road. The controversial law will take effect in September 2014 and provides for fines from $34 to $220 if a bicyclist is injured in a collision with a car. This is just the latest law seeking to protect riders and drivers.

In 1996, the California Vehicle Code was amended to enact the California Traffic Safety program, a comprehensive plan to reduce traffic deaths, including those involving bicyclists.

Part of the program included the Safe Bicyclist Protection Act, in which the legislature recognized that bicycles are a legitimate means of transportation used by many Californians, and that bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers of motor vehicles.

Rules of the road are the same for bikes

As found by the legislature, bicycles are an integral part of the state's transportation system, and California should encourage bicycling to reduce pollution and traffic congestion from automobiles. Since bicycles are considered vehicles for purposes of the Vehicle Code, they must follow the same rules as cars when using the public roads.

One rule that causes consternation among bikers and drivers alike is the prohibition of vehicles riding or driving side-by-side, which applies to bicycles as well as cars. However, some bicyclists insist that they should be able to ride two and three abreast despite the rule. Local cyclists have been known to admonish cyclists riding side-by-side, telling them to follow riding etiquette to stay safe on heavily traveled roads.

Helmets are essential, especially for kids

California was one of the first states with a mandatory bicycle helmet law for kids-a 1987 law required bike passengers under five years old to wear a helmet. Bike riders under age 18 were required to wear a helmet starting in 1994 and riders of scooters, skateboards and inline skaters were added to the law in 2003. Several California municipalities have enacted an all-ages helmet law.

Studies in many states and in countries around the world have concluded that bicycle related head injuries have been reduced dramatically by the passing of helmet laws. Youth riders under 18 are the age group most affected by bicycle injuries and deaths, most caused by collisions with cars. Local law enforcement groups have organized events to teach kids about bike safety and rules of the road, as well as stressing the importance of wearing a helmet.

Consult an attorney

Despite riding defensively and following the rules of the road, cycling can still be dangerous and the possibility of a collision on one of Sonoma's winding roads is a reality. If you or a loved one is injured in an accident as a bicyclist, speak with an experienced personal injury attorney. You may be entitled to compensation due to the negligence of the other party.