Editor’s Note: RoadBikeReview contributor Megan Hottman is a recognized legal expert on cycling laws and advocate in the cycling community. She provides bike law education clinics and classes to cyclists, local bike clubs and to law enforcement personnel in the state of Colorado.
This is the million dollar question facing cyclists: How far to the right must we ride? After my discussions with cyclists, motorists and law enforcement officers, I think this is one of the most misunderstood portions of C.R.S. 42-4-1412, the primary statute addressing cyclist conduct in Colorado. Let’s break it down one section at a time. MY COMMENTS ARE IN BOLD ITALICS TO INDICATE MY THOUGHTS vs THE STATUTORY LANGUAGE.
FIRST: WHAT SPEED IS THE CYCLIST GOING?
(5)(a) Any person operating a bicycle or an electrical assisted bicycle upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic shall ride in the right-hand lane, subject to the following conditions:
STOP RIGHT THERE — THIS SECTION IMPLIES THAT IF A CYCLIST IS GOING THE NORMAL SPEED OF TRAFFIC, THEN YOU NEED NOT READ ANY FURTHER. BUT – ASSUMING THE CYCLIST IS TRAVELING LESS THAN THE NORMAL SPEED OF TRAFFIC, THEN WE CONTINUE OUR ANALYSIS…
SECOND: IS THE LANE WIDE ENOUGH TO SHARE?
(I) If the right-hand lane then available for traffic is wide enough to be safely shared with overtaking vehicles, a bicyclist shall ride far enough to the right as judged safe by the bicyclist to facilitate the movement of such overtaking vehicles unless other conditions make it unsafe to do so.
THIS SECTION ABOVE NOTES THAT IF THE LANE IS WIDE ENOUGH TO SHARE WITH A VEHICLE -AS IN, THERE IS ROOM FOR THE CYCLIST, THE 3-FOOT SEPARATION, AND THE ENTIRE VEHICLE… THEN, THE CYCLIST SHALL RIDE FAR ENOUGH TO THE RIGHT AS JUDGED SAFE BY THE BICYCLIST. THIS IS A KEY PHRASE!!! EACH CYCLIST’S DETERMINATION OF WHAT IS SAFE, WILL VARY.
ROAD TIRES VS MTB TIRES? ROAD DEBRIS? NARROW SHOULDER? STEEP DROP OFF TO THE RIGHT? VETERAN RIDER WHO CAN HUG THE WHITE LINE OR NEWBIE RIDER WHO IS NOT QUITE AS STEADY OR SMOOTH? PLUS, SEE BELOW: CYCLISTS ARE NOT EXPECTED TO RIDE OVER HAZARDS! SO- IF THE LANE CAN BE SHARED BY A BIKE AND A CAR, HOW FAR TO THE RIGHT IS A JUDGEMENT CALL THAT THE CYCLIST MAKES. NOT THE CARS, NOT LAW ENFORCEMENT.
THIRD: WHAT IF THE LANE IS TOO NARROW TO SHARE?
NOTE THE IMPLICATION OF THIS SECTION – IF THE LANE IS NOT WIDE ENOUGH TO BE SAFELY SHARED WITH A CAR, THEN THE CYCLIST MAY TAKE THE LANE! AND BIKE EDUCATORS NATIONWIDE, INCLUDING THE LEAGUE OF AMERICAN BICYCLISTS, TEACH THIS APPROACH.
WE WOULD RATHER HAVE A CYCLIST TAKE THE LANE (AND HAVE A CAR BEHIND THEM HONKING), THAN HAVE A CYCLIST INVITE A CAR TO SHARE A TOO-NARROW LANE WITH THEM AND GET SIDESWIPED OR END UP UNDERNEATH THE CAR. SO TAKE THE LANE IF IT’S TOO NARROW TO SHARE!
(II) A bicyclist may use a lane other than the right-hand lane when:
(A) Preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private roadway or driveway;
(B) Overtaking a slower vehicle; or
(C) Taking reasonably necessary precautions to avoid hazards or road conditions.
(III) Upon approaching an intersection where right turns are permitted and there is a dedicated right-turn lane, a bicyclist may ride on the left-hand portion of the dedicated right-turn lane even if the bicyclist does not intend to turn right.
I POINT OUT THE ABOVE SECTION TO YOU SO THAT YOU KNOW A CYCLIST MAY LEGALLY RIDE IN THE LEFT PORTION OF A DESIGNATED RIGHT-TURN ONLY LANE. AND IT MAKES SENSE, RIGHT? IF THE CYCLIST WERE ON THE VERY RIGHT SIDE, IN THE RIGHT TURN LANE, THEY’D RISK BEING TURNED INTO, IF THEIR INTENT IS TO PROCEED STRAIGHT.
SIMILARLY, RIDING ON THE LEFT SIDE OF THE TURN LANE ALLOWS TURNING CARS TO MAKE THEIR RIGHT TURN, WHILE ALSO KEEPING THE THROUGH TRAFFIC LANE CLEAR FOR CARS PASSING TO THE RIDER’S LEFT. WIN-WIN.
(b) A bicyclist shall not be expected or required to:
(I) Ride over or through hazards at the edge of a roadway, including but not limited to fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or narrow lanes; or
(II) Ride without a reasonable safety margin on the right-hand side of the roadway.
NOTE THE ABOVE – CYCLISTS ARE NOT EXPECTED TO RIDE OVER ROAD DEBRIS ON THE ROAD’S EDGE, NOR ARE THEY EXPECTED TO RIDE WITHOUT A SAFETY MARGIN TO THEIR RIGHT.
BOTTOM LINE TAKE AWAY — NOWHERE IN THIS STATUTE IS THE WORD IMPEDE. IF A CYCLIST TAKES THE LANE BECAUSE IT IS TOO NARROW TO SHARE WITH A CAR, MOTORISTS and/or law enforcement MAY BELIEVE THAT THIS IS A CITABLE OFFENSE – “IMPEDING TRAFFIC.”
IN FACT, THE STATUTE DOES NOT MAKE ONE MENTION OF “IMPEDING TRAFFIC” (YOU WILL FIND THAT LANGUAGE IN THE TWO ABREAST PORTION OF THE STATUTE). THEREFORE, PURSUANT TO COLORADO STATUTE, THERE IS NO LEGAL REQUIREMENT FOR A CYCLIST TO MOVE ALL THE WAY RIGHT TO ALLOW A CAR TO OVERTAKE THEM. CYCLISTS DO NOT HAVE TO YIELD BACKWARDS.
IN OTHER WORDS THEY DO NOT HAVE TO MOVE RIGHT OR HUG THE WHITE LINE SIMPLY BECAUSE A CAR WANTS TO PASS. IS IT OFTEN GOOD PRACTICE TO DO SO -ESPECIALLY ON HILLS OR CLIMBS WHERE THE CYCLIST’S SPEED IS 4MPH COMPARED TO THE POSTED SPEED LIMIT? YES OF COURSE. BUT ONLY IF IT IS SAFE.
MOTORISTS: WHEN YOU SEE A CYCLIST RIDING IN THE MIDDLE OF A LANE, ESPECIALLY IN BUSY URBAN AREAS OR CONGESTED ROADS WITH ON-STREET PARKING AND LOTS OF TRAFFIC, THEY ARE THERE INTENTIONALLY, FOR THEIR OWN SAFETY. THEY HAVE “TAKEN THE LANE” TO BE SAFE, TO BE VISIBLE, AND TO MAKE IT OBVIOUS WHERE THEY INTEND TO TRAVEL, ESPECIALLY IN AN INTERSECTION.