Do bicycles on shoulder forfeit right of way?

The in basket: I just came across a misfiled, year-old e-mail from Bill Christensen, sent about the time a man on a bicycle was killed when a car turned in front of him on Holly Road at Wildcat Lake Road.

“After reading all the comments on the death…,” Bill wrote, “I conclude there is some confusion as to the rights of riders and automobile drivers. I believe that anyone on the shoulder of the road is considered to be off the road, thereby relinquishing their right of way as a vehicle in a lane of travel.

“If this is the case, the rider that was killed was at fault in as much as he didn’t stop at the cross road and walk across/ride across as if it were a crosswalk.

“My question is this: Is a person walking or riding on the shoulder considered to be on the road or off the road and what are the obligations for crossing cross streets for the rider and the turn requirements for drivers?”

The out basket: The law that confers to bicyclists the same rights and duties as motorists deviates from that standard to allow bicyclists to ride on the shoulder, which cars aren’t allowed to do.

So the fact a bike rider is on the shoulder doesn’t change the rules and the rider, if going straight, has the right of way over a turning vehicle.

Pedestrians have the right of way at any unsignalized intersection, whether there is a crosswalk or not, provided the pedestrian doesn’t move so abruptly a driver has no realistic chance of getting stopped in time. The signals confer right of way at intersections with stop lights.

8 thoughts on “Do bicycles on shoulder forfeit right of way?

  1. I believe that this definition of right-of-way defies logic and common sense, as well as potentially creating a hazardous situation where none need exist.

    The article states that a bicyclist was killed when a vehicle turned in front of him; the inference here is that the cyclist hit the moving vehicle, not the other way around. Ergo he was overtaking the turning vehicle (and attempting to pass on the driver’s blind side).

    Not all vehicles have right-side mirrors; even with these mirrors, there are blind spots on that side.

    Normally, it is the responsibility of an overtaking vehicle to use caution in passing, particularly so when passing on the right (which I believe is somewhat frowned upon).

    To state that a vehicle which is (a) not in a driving lane, (b) not on the road, (c) likely in a driver’s blind spot, and (d) is overtaking, has the right-of-way boggles the mind.

    This is a situation which is extremely hazardous for a bicyclist; he should take the responsibility for his own safety.

  2. The accident on Holly Rd was NOT the fault of the bicyclist!!! Any vehicle making a left turn is required to maintain a safe distance between them and approching vehicles, or bicyclists. The turning vehicle is totally at fault for not allowing sufficent distance for the approaching bicycle to avoid collision. The only exception to this rule is when the approching vehical is speeding, which bicycles rarely do.

  3. Denis
    May I suggest you get a clue about what you are talking about before you embarrass us with your ‘logic’&’common sense’?
    The ‘accident’ that Bill Christensen was questioning involved a motor vehicle – being driven by a vehicle operator with a suspended license – making a left turn across oncoming traffic.
    The bicyclist was not on the same side of the road as the turning vehicle.
    Please, do a bit of research before you jump in with both feet, eh?

  4. I believe that the car turned left in front of the bicyclist, and not right. Even if it had been a right hand turn, the car most likely overtook the bicyclist before turning into him.

  5. Clearly the bicyclist needs to take responsibility for his own safety, but “right of way” never gives a car impunity to kill pedestrians or bicyclists. The driver of a car is in control of a ton of metal going at very high speed. They need to be aware of what is around them.

    According to the article the driver was actually making a left turn so that would mean the bicyclist was coming from the opposite direction and should have been visible. In any case, police at the time indicated they were unlikely to press any charges.

  6. As Don and Steve said above, the motorist turned left in front of the bicyclist in the accident in question, Denis erroneously concluded it was a right turn.

  7. Additionally, if I’m not mistaken per Washington law, when there is a crosswalk, cyclists have the same right (of way) as pedestrians within it.

  8. My bad, my bad.

    When I read the column, I assumed (incorrectly) that the driver had turned right. There are many bicycle lanes in many cities (Seattle, Poulsbo, Federal Way, for instance) which have bicycle lanes to the right of automobile traffic, and this seemed logical to raise the question of right-of-way. There was recently a case where an overtaking bicycle rider challenged a dump truck for right of way in such a situation.


    If a driver is turning left, he has right-of-way over nothing. It is his total responsibility to remain clear. Other vehicles, bicycles, people, animals must be out of the way.

    The only possible excuse for this accident might be that the bicycle, off the road, on the shoulder, was not visible to the driver.

    Ergo, my false assumption.

    Note: I have been surprised (in Seattle) by bicycles traveling much faster than traffic, suddenly appearing on my right, ignoring my turn signals, and those of others.

    Simple rule: Left = passing side; Right = suicide.

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