Passing a Bicyclist in a No Passing Zone

Question

Can a driver legally pass a bicyclist that is taking the lane in a “No Passing Zone”?

Answer

Frequently, cyclists and other vehicles impede other traffic in lanes with solid double yellow center lines indicating “No Passing”.

If a garbage truck is stopped and other traffic cannot pass within the lane, what is the appropriate action?

How about a slow-moving tractor on the roadway?

How about a bicycle?

The law takes these circumstances into account and provides a solution, albeit one that is not entirely specific to all cases.  The statute that applies is:

s. 316.0875 – No Passing Zones

(2)  …. no driver shall at any time drive on the left side of the roadway with such no-passing zone ….

(3)   This section does not apply when an obstruction exists making it necessary to drive to the left of the center of the highway ….

We probably would agree that a stopped garbage truck is an obstruction.  Probably a slow-moving tractor.  How about a bicycle?  Again, the law isn’t specific, so we need to use some common sense.

If a cyclist is traveling 35 mph in a 35 mph zone, it is clear that a motor vehicle cannot pass under the statute above.

If a cyclist is traveling 5 mph in that same zone, it seems that the obstruction rule would apply, and the motorist can cross the double-yellow line to pass.

How about 10mph, or 20, or 25?

We don’t have a definitive answer.  The law leaves that to the discretion of those involved, and an officer would need to determine if the intent of the law is fulfilled and the passing can be accomplished safely, or if someone is placed in danger due to the actions taken.

There are many locations that have double yellow center lines for very long distances with narrow lanes. If motorists could not legally cross the center line to pass a bicyclist, even one riding far to the right, they could never legally pass.  The “obstruction” clause seems to solve that problem.

Of course, there are other statutes that limit the use of the on-coming lane to pass.

s. 316.083 – Overtaking and Passing a Vehicle

(1)…. 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.

s. 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.

Posted in Ask Geo, Overtaking & Passing Tagged with: , ,
4 comments on “Passing a Bicyclist in a No Passing Zone
  1. Herman F. Ebeling Jr. says:

    Okay, that’s “as clear as mud.” What about on a road that has a double yellow line, black and white “No Passing” signs AND sharrows painted on the road in the middle of the lane. Can cars pass a bicycle in that situation?

    • Pino says:

      I’m no lawyer, but if your state doesn’t define obstruction, consider applying Ohio’s rule: A vehicle or other roadworthy device traveling at less than half the posted speed limit is an obstruction. So if I’m doing 15 in a 40 on my bike in the right half of the rightmost through lane, I’m an obstruction, but if I’m doing 15 in a 25, I’m not. Ask your lawyer if that’s reasonable in your state.

  2. Geo says:

    That depends on whether or not the bicyclist is an obstruction. See .0875 above. It is not clear because the law isn’t specific about a bicyclist in that situation. Maybe we should all join FBA and have them add “obstruction or slow moving bicyclist” change to their legislative agenda.

  3. Geo says:

    Pino,

    We would rather see the statute say obstruction “or bicycle traveling at less than the normal speed of traffic”, a phrase used in other statutes. Certainly, any clarification would be helpful.

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