Tag Archive for passing on the right

Riding in the gray area of the law

I’ve long argued that its safer for cyclists to move up to the front of an intersection than stop behind a line of cars in the traffic lane.

The reason is simple.

The single greatest risk any cyclist faces on the roads is that drivers may not see you. By moving up to the front of an intersection, in front of any drivers in the right lane — in other words, the same position you would occupy in a bike box — you ensure that you can be seen by everyone on the road, no matter what direction they’re coming from.

On the other hand, if you stop in place in the traffic lane, you’re at least partially hidden from oncoming and cross traffic — and possibly completely hidden from view, depending on how far back you are or how big the vehicles ahead of you are — dramatically increasing your risk of a collision. And you run the risk that a driver coming up from behind will be focused on the car ahead of you, and fail to notice the bike right behind it.

Of course, there are those who disagree.

Some cyclists argue that it’s rude to block cars from turning right or force drivers to pass you repeatedly as they move by once, then have to pass again after you filter past on your way up to the red light.

The first is easy to address. If the car at the front of the right lane has its turn signal on or is moving to the right, simply position yourself slightly in front and to its left, leaving room for it to make a right. And don’t be surprised if the driver thanks you for that bit of courtesy before turning.

As for the second, whether or not passing becomes a problem depends on how difficult you make it.

I usually move slightly to the right once the light changes, allowing the first few cars to go by before retaking my place in the traffic lane. And I try to leave a little more room on my left when there are no parked cars next to me — and therefore, no risk of dooring — remaining at the edge of the traffic lane but leaving room for drivers to get by when it’s safe.

The other argument against filtering up to the intersection is that it’s dangerous and/or illegal to pass on the right.

The danger is easy to deal with by using a modicum of care. Simply put, don’t pass a car on the right if it could move into your path; if it’s blocked in place by the cars ahead, though, you should be safe. And never pass a moving car — or a car that has room to move into your path — on the right if it has its turn signal on or is edging towards the right; under those circumstances, you’re wiser, and legally allowed, to pass on the left.

Whether passing on the right is 100% legal may be another matter.*

I’ve always argued that you’re allowed to do it to pass slow or stopped traffic. After all, lane splitting is legal in California, and despite common misconceptions, it’s perfectly legal for drivers to pass on the right if they can do it safely, without driving off the paved or main-travelled portion of the roadway.

In other words, they can’t use the shoulder of the roadway to pass on the right. But you can.

Bikes are specifically allowed to ride in places cars are’t, like bike lanes, parking lanes or on the shoulder — which means you’re often riding in a separate lane from the motor vehicles on your left. And since you’re subject to the same rights and responsibilities as any other vehicle, that means you can legally pass on the right, just like they can under similar circumstances.

Look at it this way.

Say you were driving in the right lane of a four lane highway when the car ahead of you in the left lane stops to make a left turn. Does that mean you have to stop as well?

Of course not. Not only are you allowed to keep going, you could even move around and pass in the right lane if you were directly behind him when he stopped.

It’s just common sense. And specifically allowed under California law.

On the other hand, common sense and court verdicts can be mutually exclusive around here.

For instance, on Monday, Cyclelicious told the story of a cyclist who was riding in a San Francisco bike lane when he was doored by a passenger exiting a taxi on the right. And even though dooring is clearly illegal in California, a jury found him partly responsible for the collision because the law that allows passing on the right specifically refers to motor vehicles, with no provision for bikes.

Never mind that we have all the rights and responsibilities of any other vehicle operators.

It’s that damn common sense thing again.

Fortunately, that won’t be a problem much longer. Virtually unnoticed in the flurry of bills signed by Governor Schwarzenegger was SB1318, which removes the reference to motor vehicle in the laws covering passing on the right.

And it specifically allows cyclists to pass on the right in a designated bike lane or the shoulder of the road, legalizing what should already have been legal by any reasonable reading of the law.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take effect until January 1st.

So until then, I’ll continue to pass stopped cars on the right, just like I always have. And ride in the gray area of the law, hoping common sense will somehow prevail.

Even in California.


Your new world champion is Norway’s Thor Hushovd, winner in a mass sprint to the finish; Mattie Breschel of Denmark is second with Aussie Allan Davis third. Think Italian rider Filippo Pozzato regrets going without sex for four months to focus on the Worlds after finishing a disappointing 4th?

Meanwhile, Bicycling says the Alberto Contador case raises more questions than answers; Contador says clear his name or he’ll hang up his cleats. And a fourth Spanish cyclist is suspended for doping as mountain bike world champion and Olympic bronze medal winner Margarita Fullana admits to breaking the rules. Spaniard Ezquiel Mosquera says his conscience is clear, while UCI Director Pat McQuaid says Spain needs to get its house in order, and the Spanish press says calls his words a blow to the heart.


With less than one week to go before L.A.’s first ciclovía, Travelin’ Local takes a look at Sunday’s upcoming CicLAvia; sounds like Will is looking forward to it. Streetsblog uncovers a film about the original in Bogotá and the organizers behind it invite you to come out and play. And Flying Pigeon suggest a cargo bike or baby carrier for the full CicLAvia experience.


Straight out of Suburbia says if Tea Partiers are really serious they’ll do something to get cars off welfare. Zero tolerance on distracted driving on Tuesday; about time, but will that include distracted cycling, as well? LADOT Bike Blog urges riders to attend Tuesday’s BAC meeting. A look at the day one of Krosstoberfest, followed by day two. New bike blog Examined Spoke compares L.A. to Copenhagen. How to prepare for your first century. After taking a bike tour with Long Beach mobility coordinator Charlie Gandy, a Hermosa Beach cyclist says that city could learn a lot from Gandy’s. The Orange County writer who insists that better courtesy is the solution to OC’s one-a-month rate of cycling deaths says riding a bike is as easy as, uh, riding a bike. Riverside police are accused of trashing a homeless camp, destroying their food and slashing bike tires. It’s cyclists versus senior citizens on the streets of Sacramento.

Looks like bike friendly Tucson has the same problems with bike parking — or the lack of it — that we do. Colorado cyclists fix unwanted bikes and donate them to the homeless. Teaching a cyclist to ride on the right side of the road. Sadly, the jogger injured in a collision with a bicyclist on Dallas bike and pedestrian trail has died. Texas drivers are urged to be more mindful of bikes, although that right turn rule is pretty confusing. A riding revolution hits the Motor City. A Wisconsin bike shop owner is seriously injured in a hit-from-behind collision, just five years after barely surviving a previous wreck. A Chattanooga cyclist is embarrassed to be associated with bicyclists who ride slowly in groups ad block traffic. Riding to a winery and orchard to pick apples, just one of the many pleasures of fall riding we miss here in L.A. The Baltimore Sun says Maryland’s new three-foot law simply codifies common sense and courtesy; in that state, you’re not impeding traffic if you’re riding within 15 mph of the speed limit. Grey’s Anatomy star Patrick Dempsey rides a bike to raise funds for a Maine charity. Now that’s a big heart — after a woman is killed on her bike, her family gives away over 100 bike helmets to local children.

A London writer says Britain needs to get on its bike. London’s Daily Mail suggests that a 20% decrease in significant injuries isn’t — significant, that is. An Irish cycling coach says now is the time to decide what kind of cyclist you are to get ready for next season. Copenhagen insists that you’re safer on a bike than on your sofa.

Finally, a Vancouver editorial writer calls bike lanes an “irritating act of wrongheaded righteousness” for the “whims of a supposedly progressive elite.” And from Durham Ontario, a writer who claims to love cycling says bikes should get out of the way of cars because that’s what the roads were designed for — regardless of whether the government considers bikes vehicles.

And we thought L.A. was bad.

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