Giving Bicyclists Room to Work With

The in basket: Ga Neille Posey Hostvedt said in April she’d heard of a new law regarding the proper way to pass a bicyclist going in the same direction you are.
“The old law states that a driver must allow at least three feet of space when overtaking and passing a bicycle. But, the cyclist may become startled, fall and then three feet of space is not a safe distance; thus the new law.”
A month later, Michael Maddox of Poulsbo asked “What does the law say about a driver veering across the yellow line when passing a bicyclist or a pedestrian, given that there is no oncoming traffic and also no cars turning onto the street?


The in basket: Ga Neille Posey Hostvedt said in April she’d heard of a new law regarding the proper way to pass a bicyclist going in the same direction you are.
“The old law states that a driver must allow at least three feet of space when overtaking and passing a bicycle. But, the cyclist may become startled, fall and then three feet of space is not a safe distance; thus the new law.”
A month later, Michael Maddox of Poulsbo asked “What does the law say about a driver veering across the yellow line when passing a bicyclist or a pedestrian, given that there is no oncoming traffic and also no cars turning onto the street?
“As a bicyclist, I very much appreciate when the driver of a passing car veers to the left, often across the yellow line, to give me a wide berth, especially on a road with narrow shoulders. If this bit of driving consideration is legal, then I am going to recommend it to all persons I know. About every two weeks or so, I get that heart stopping experience of a car mirror whizzing by … just inches from my helmet.”
The out basket: Trooper Brian George of the State Patrol detachment in Bremerton says “The law regarding passing bicyclists is not specific on how much space a driver must leave for the bicyclist; it simply states “a safe distance”. RCW 46.61.110 was updated in 2005 with the following subsection added – “The driver of a vehicle approaching a pedestrian or bicycle that is on the roadway or on the right-hand shoulder or bicycle lane of the roadway shall pass to the left at a safe distance to clearly avoid coming into contact with the pedestrian or bicyclist, and shall not again drive to the right side of the roadway until safely clear of the overtaken pedestrian or bicyclist.
“This seems pretty clear to me,” Brian said, “if you see that you cannot make it around the bicyclist then you have to follow behind until it is safe to pass.”
As for crossing the yellow line, there is no specific exemption from the prohibition of passing across a double yellow, but Brian says, “I believe common sense would prevail on this one also. If no on-coming traffic or other danger is present, then providing a bicyclists or pedestrian as much room as possible would be OK. If that means crossing the center line to safely pass by, a trooper would recognize that and understand.”
There’s also a law allowing a driver to cross the centerline to get around an obstruction in his lane, though Brian didn’t know if a bicyclist or pedestrian would meet that definition.

4 thoughts on “Giving Bicyclists Room to Work With

  1. Travis:

    Bicyclists mixing it up with auto and truck traffic on open highways has always been a concern for me.

    Many of our county roads are one-lane in each direction, no bike lane, narrow shoulder, 50-55 mph speed limit. With oncoming traffic, blind curves, and a cyclist teetering along on the fog line, at 5-10 mph, what is safe?

  2. I haven’t met many understanding police officers. Oregon at least considered the following: http://www.bta4bikes.org/docs/SB299.white.paper.pdf

    Section 3
    would establish a 3-foot minimum passing buffer. Arizona, Florida and Minnesota have adopted the same standards. Section 5 would clarify existing state statutes to allow motorists
    to pass a bicycle in a no-passing zone after yielding to other traffic.

  3. I wonder who will be out there with a measuring tape to ensure the three-foot passing distance is adhered to?

    I ride a recumbent trike and my experience is that the majority of the cars give a wide distance when they pass, crossing over the yellow line…or they follow behind until it is safe to pass.

    Being on three wheels, I don’t teeter on anything…in heavy traffic, I ride over as far as there is shoulder …getting totally off the road – if need be – and will pull over and stop if I see cars stacking up behind me.
    Legally we may have the same rights the motorist does, but few cyclists will refuse to give way to a motorist….we need to go our of our way to stay safe on our roads…

    We have a good many young, careless bike riders. I don’t know of any old, careless bike riders.

    I carry a safety flag on a 10 foot pole and the trike is lit up like a Christmas tree…daytime too…. staying aware of the traffic and cycling defensively.

    Advocating for safe walking and cycling roads is primary for cyclists …I hope we are doing enough….

  4. I need to clarify that I was talking about riding my recumbent trike on country roads.

    In city traffic, without cycling paths, I ride in the middle of the lane and pedal as fast as possible to keep up with traffic….usually not difficult in the average city slow stop and go traffic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Before you post, please complete the prompt below.

Please enter the word MILK here: