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Posted by on May 25, 2008 in Safety | 10 comments

FAQ: Can They Cross the Double Yellow Line?

The artwork for the 3ft law PSA (donated by KCI) was unveiled last night at the Smackdown. Susan Fortini (FastSigns) generously donated a banner to hang over the lanes.

The art has brought up numerous questions and comments about the car crossing the double yellow line. That’s perfect! It means we’re communicating a very important message. The law is somewhat ambiguous on this point, but the short answer is: Yes they can, if it can be done safely, without interfering with oncoming traffic.

Currently the part of the law that covers this point is the exception which states:

The prohibition of passing in a no-passing zone does not apply when an obstruction exists making it necessary to drive to the left of the center of the highway [§316.0875(3)].

The Florida Bicycle Association’s Bicycle Law Enforcement Guide explanation:

Thus, when a cyclist is traveling so slowly as to constitute an “obstruction,” a motorist may cross the center line in a no-passing zone to pass the cyclist if the way is clear to do so, i.e., when it can be seen that any oncoming traffic is far enough ahead that the motorist could finish passing before coming within 200 feet of an oncoming vehicle.

The above explanation is approved by the Florida Department of Transportation and Florida law enforcement agencies. Because, of course, it makes sense. The no passing zone is based on the sight-lines and speed limit. Cyclists travel well below the speed limit on many roads, therefore we can be passed in far less distance than a car. And, motorists HAVE TO cross the center line in order to pass us safely on roads with narrow lanes (which is most roads).

Unfortunately, many individual law enforcement officers do not recognize that overtaking cyclists is covered by this exception. This lack of understanding causes them to want to force us to ride farther right in narrow lanes so that motorists can pass.

One thing that could be used to our disadvantage is the application of “obstruction” to our legitimate use of the roadway. Florida cycling advocates might want to look at how the Ohio Bike Federation has worked to revise Ohio’s traffic laws. Several significant revisions were accomplished in 2006, we should take an interest in two of them.

1) Ohio’s smart revision to the overtaking law:

Sec. 4511.31 [Driving Left of Center in Passing]:

Everyone is familiar with the general rule on not passing in a no-passing zone. Double yellow centerlines indicate where it is not safe to pass. And there are also “no passing” signs up in such no-passing zones.

Bicyclists know that there are some careful motorists who religiously obey “no passing” signs and refuse to pass a cyclist on the right-hand side of the road, even when conditions would make it safe to pass. As all cyclists know, this puts a lot of unnecessary pressure on cyclists and sometimes unnecessarily causes motor traffic to back up behind the cyclist. Changes in Sec. 4511.31 are designed to solve this problem.

Sec. 4511.31(A) states the general rule that a vehicle shall not drive to the left of center when there are pavement markings or signs indicating that a portion of the road where a vehicle should not pass. New Part (B) changes this with the following language:

Division (A) of this section does not apply when all of the following apply:

(1) The slower vehicle is proceeding at less than half the speed of the speed limit applicable to that location.

(2) The faster vehicle is capable of overtaking and passing the slower vehicle without exceeding the speed limit.

(3) There is sufficient clear sight distance to the left of the center or center line of the roadway to meet the overtaking and passing provisions of section 4511.29 of the Revised Code, considering the speed of the slower vehicle.

What this means, in short, is that a motorist may pass a bicyclist in a no-passing zone if it’s safe to do so. We’ve got our job cut out for us to begin educating motorists about this.

2) Ohio’s revision to the wording of the lane position law

Sec. 4511.25 [Lanes of Travel upon Roadways]:

The general rule for all vehicles is stated in Sec. 4511.25(A): “Upon all roadways of sufficient width, a vehicle or trackless trolley shall be driven upon the right half of the roadway” with certain listed exceptions.

The next issue is where in the right half of a roadway or in the right-hand lane a vehicle must be operated. Part (B) of Sec. 4511.25 used to say “as close as practicable to the right-hand-curb or edge of the roadway.” H.B. 389 changes that in a very significant way for bicyclists.

Part (B) says:

(1) Upon all roadways any vehicle or trackless trolley proceeding at less than the prevailing and lawful speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic and far enough to the right to allow passing by faster vehicles if such passing is safe and reasonable, except under any of the following circumstances: [the usual UVC exceptions]

(2) Nothing in division (B)(1) of this section requires a driver of a slower vehicle to compromise the driver’s safety to allow overtaking by a faster vehicle. (emphasis added)

The significance of these changes is to essentially substitute clearer and more definitive language for the old, vague “as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway” language. Rather than using the unclear “as close as practicable” language the new law uses language that everyone can understand.

My only issue would be that it should allow a cyclist the entire use of a right lane of any width on a multilane road. But it’s certainly an improvement over the standard UVC.

If you’ve ever had a run-in with an officer insisting you ride at the extreme right edge of a narrow lane, you understand the significance of clear language. Too many people think practicable and possible are the same thing. This misinterpretation is detrimental to cyclists’ safety.

Remember, when you Ride Big, you’ll get more than 3 feet most of the time.

10 Comments

  1. Lately I have been having trouble with School Bus drivers. Had one the other day pass me within a foot while I was in a bike lane. The driver crossed the bike lane white line to avoid crossing a double yellow line. I guess yellow trumps white.

    Last week I saw a different School Bus driver use up a bike lane on a curve.

    I’m glad that school will be out soon.

  2. Have you noticed, the width of the traffic lane + bike lane on Glenridge does not allow for the safe operation of a large vehicle and bicycle side-by-side?

  3. “Have you noticed, the width of the traffic lane + bike lane on Glenridge does not allow for the safe operation of a large vehicle and bicycle side-by-side?”

    I think it is tight, but not undoable. I used to drive trucks & buses that size. Experienced drivers know that the rear wheels track inside the front wheels when making a turn. Hell, just about anybody knows that if they think about it for a moment. Slowing down for curves is the key.

    But just like in Santa Cruz, the truck and bus drivers aren’t thinking.

  4. Buses and box trucks take the entire traffic lane. That bike lanes is probably 4ft at its most generous. A 2-foot-wide cyclist riding 2ft from the edge of pavement is left with 1 foot of passing clearance.

  5. I think it is 3 feet. The WP committee “agreed” that 3 feet was sufficient. I haven’t been to a meeting in almost a year. It gave me headaches, so I stopped going.

  6. The verbiage does not lend itself well to our cause of equality on the roads. It resonates to the motoring public that we cyclists really shouldn’t be there in the first place.

    We should follow Ohio’s measure to change such verbiage and eliminate yet another vague explanation on the books. Who knows the best way to get started and when can we get started?

  7. http://tinyurl.com/create.php

    Dictionary.com defines obstruction as follows:

    –noun
    1. something that obstructs, blocks, or closes up with an obstacle or obstacles; obstacle or hindrance: obstructions to navigation.
    2. an act or instance of obstructing.
    3. the state of being obstructed.
    4. the delaying or preventing of business before a deliberative body, esp. a legislative group, by parliamentary contrivances.

    Definitely not a win in our fight for equality. Unfortunately, the closed minded “cagers” will take this and run screaming telling us we are wrong to be in their way.

  8. Rodney,

    I agree with you 100%. I hate that interpretation and I want the wording of the law changed for exactly the same reason. I think “slow vehicle” is appropriate as it would include farm tractors, too.

    FBA is just beginning its legislative presence. Ultimately, this will be a task for them as a member organization representing cyclists.

  9. Keri,

    Two points about the 2006 Ohio Law for which I wrote the draft:
    1) The “pass in no-passing zone” idea came from a 2001 Chainguard post by John Forester.

    2) Our “slow vehicle rule” has a subtle mistake (mia culpa). “Upon all roadways any vehicle or trackless trolley proceeding at less than the prevailing and lawful speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic [and] far enough to the right to allow passing …” That “and” in square brackets above should be “or”. Wane Pein pointed out the mistake — unfortunately too late.

    If we said “or” (as does the UVC) then the far right language would not apply on multiple lane roads, only on 2-lane roads.

    Fred

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