Bob Sutterfield has written an excellent letter to his local paper about the problem of motorists passing into oncoming traffic. This is the only regular problem I have with car drivers. I rarely experience close passing. Harassment comes from significantly less than 1% of drivers I encounter. I almost never have conflicts or scary moments with crossing and turning cars. But way too often, I witness oncoming drivers having to brake or take evasive action because a passing driver did not slow down and assess the situation before passing me.
In his letter, Bob writes:
Earlier this week my wife was caught in such a situation on Quito; thankfully she maneuvered skillfully and avoided injury. But then the woman driving the oncoming car shouted out her window as she passed, “Get off the road!” That admonition was misdirected at my wife, rather than at the overtaking driver who had driven unlawfully and created the perilous situation.
If the motoring public harbors such misunderstandings regarding our shared responsibility to obey the ordinary rules of the road, it’s a good opportunity for focused enforcement and education. Read the whole letter.
That’s happened to me, too. This misunderstanding is one of the most frustrating aspects of the behavior. I’ve actually seen newspaper comments stating that “cyclists are endangering motorists by making us pass into oncoming traffic.” How twisted is our culture that someone could think that, let alone say it? The responsibility for safe passing is unequivocally on the overtaking driver and it always has been! There is no right of speed or right to pass. If you can’t pass safely, you may not pass. Period.
FS 316.083 – Overtaking and Passing a Vehicle
The following rules shall govern the overtaking and passing of vehicles proceeding in the same direction …
(1) The driver of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle proceeding in the same direction shall … pass to the left thereof at a safe distance, and shall not again drive to the right side of the roadway until safely clear of the overtaken vehicle. The driver of a vehicle overtaking a bicycle or other non-motorized vehicle must pass the bicycle or non-motorized vehicle at a safe distance of not less than 3 feet between the vehicle and the bicycle or other non-motorized vehicle.
FS 316.085 – Limitations on Overtaking, Passing, Changing Lanes and Changing Course
(1) No vehicle shall be driven to the left of the center of the roadway … clearly visible and is free of oncoming traffic … without interfering with … any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction … return to an authorized lane of travel … before coming within 200 feet of any approaching vehicle.
from Florida Bicycle Law
Must Pass the Cyclist
The problem is, there is no logic to this behavior. Waiting to pass safely only takes a few insignificant seconds. Many times there isn’t any need to pass at all. Motorists pass and then turn off the road a block later, or pass on approach to a red light or stop sign. I have lost count of the number of times a motorist has stopped at a stop sign in the oncoming lane because there was no way s/he could get around me in the short distance available.
I wonder, does the belief that the cyclist doesn’t belong there worsen the sense of entitlement to pass? Are they acting out or is this just mindless stupidity? I would love to do a study where the perpetrators were stopped and surveyed (in lieu of a ticket) to determine the thinking, or lack-thereof, behind their behavior. I wonder if they even know. I want to show these people the big picture of the 2 seconds they saved in getting to that red light 500ft away vs the potential devastation they could have caused. But as a cyclist, it does no good for me to confront them. The response isn’t introspection, it’s knee-jerk finger-pointing: “you shouldn’t be on the road.”
Mr. Sutterfield is right, this is an issue that needs a high-visibility enforcement campaign. In my experience, this is far more common than close passing. Doing a sting on this behavior would be easier and yield more results than a sting on passing clearance. It would be like shooting fish in a barrel on a lot of our 2-lane roads!
But I suspect it will take some real leadership from public officials and a direct confrontation with the entitlement to speed before we’ll find the political will to enforce the law. Such an initiative would probably even mark a sea change in the effort to promote bicycling as a real alternative. If we want to get serious about equity and access, this is a good place to start challenging the culture of speed and its degradation of our communities.