State traffic statutes often present a conundrum for cyclists who are confronted with backed up traffic in a single lane when there is a suitable shoulder (heading in the same direction) available to them. On the one hand, most if not all state statutes indicate that a cyclist should not pass on the right (for a single lane of traffic) while, on the other hand, most if not all also indicate that a cyclist shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practical. While a cyclist could “take the lane” – that is, to ride in the travel lane with the flow of traffic to be fully compliant with the statutes – such an action essentially eliminates the utility of the bicycle, since the cyclist would also be stuck in the backed-up traffic. The reality is that the cyclist often encounters situations that warrant passing on the right.
Cyclists must exercise the utmost caution when passing a line of traffic on the right and should ride with their hands on the brakes at an appropriate speed in anticipation of right and left turning vehicles. Gaps in backed-up traffic going the opposite direction will open up for left-turning vehicles. The presence and/or opening of this gap can provide a visual cue to the cyclist well before the left-turning vehicle moves though the gap and becomes visible to the cyclist. The cyclist must also keep in mind that: (1) the driver of the left-turning vehicle may not expect there to be a cyclist riding on the shoulder in the opposite direction; (2) the left-turning vehicle driver’s view is most likely obstructed just as much as the cyclist’s view is of the left-turning vehicle; and (3) the driver’s attention is focused in the direction he is heading once he is approximately halfway through the turn. Ultimately, cyclists must keep in mind that they are often in the best possible position to prevent accidents for left-turning vehicles, since they have a forward field of view.
TIMOTHY JOGANICH, MSES , C.H.F.P. is an ARCCA expert with more than 20 years’ experience in the sciences of human movement, biomechanics and human factors. He specializes in the analysis of bicycle accidents, based on his educational background and his own personal and extensive cycling experience, including competitive racing, touring, fitness/recreational riding, commuting and coaching.