Right Turns Again

Question

Gary asked: This is in regards to a column, Dr. Delay, in a newspaper.

The article states:

Who has right of way? Bicycle or car?

Reader wrote to the Doc about an incident she recently observed involving a bicycle and a car. She posed a question about right of way:

“Assume a bike and a car are traveling in the same direction in the same lane. As they approach an intersection, the traffic light is green. They reach the corner at the same time, with the bike on the outside of the car. The bike rider wants to continue on through the intersection, but the person driving the car wants to turn right. Who has the right of way? I saw this scenario this week. I don’t know if the car signaled, but the alert bike rider gave way for the car and then proceeded through the intersection. It scared me to think what could have happened. I have seen bikes approach a red light and not even stop. This is especially stupid if a car turns right on red. What is the correct thing to do?”

Doc’s answer:

The first problem with this scenario is the third sentence (“They reach the corner at the same time, with the bike on the outside of the car”). Cyclists are by law expected to behave in traffic as they would were they driving a car or motorcycle — they are not to be riding abreast of any vehicle in a single lane (bike or car or motorcycle, etc.). So because the cyclist should not have been next to the car in the same lane it was appropriate that he/she gave way but the point of “Share the Road” is to truly share the road and make the same sound decisions when traveling on two wheels one would make while operating on four. And if it’s not cool to run a red light in your car, the same holds true when you’re on a bike.

I believe she has done a disservice to cyclists by telling the public the cyclist was wrong, when in my interpretation of the law, the motorist was overtaking the cyclist and must give 3 feet, and since the cyclist was not turning, would have the right-of-way.

If she was wrong, may I quote your response in a letter I will write to her.

Answer

The Doc is wrong for a number of reasons, and you are welcome to quote verbatim anything in this article.

I must note that the Doc is correct that cyclists have the same rights and duties as other drivers and running red lights is not legal for any driver. However, “Share the Road” does not necessarily mean yielding to other drivers.  It means riding legally and safely.  When doing so, it may “delay” other traffic, but it is not unlawful.  The question is not whether cars or bicycles have the right of way.  Both must comply with their legal responsibilities.

This is the classic “right hook” situation.

First, the doc is wrong by answering a question without having all the facts.  Is this a substandard-width lane or a wide curb lane?  Who is overtaking whom?  It isn’t possible to accurately answer the question without that information.

Next, the Doc states,

“…. because the cyclist should not have been next to the car in the same lane…. they are not to be riding abreast of any vehicle in a single lane (bike or car or motorcycle, etc.).”

I don’t know where the Doc got that, but it is absolutely wrong.  Two bicyclists cannot ride abreast under certain circumstances, but riding abreast of other vehicles is perfectly legal and is done all the time.  The statute that applies is:

s. 316.2065 – Bicycle Regulations

(6) Persons riding bicycles upon a roadway may not ride more than two abreast except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles. Persons riding two abreast may not impede traffic when traveling at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing and shall ride within a single lane.

Let’s discuss lane width.  If the lane is wide enough for a bicycle and a motor vehicle to travel safely side by side (Minimum 14 feet according to the Department of Transportation) there is no reason they can’t do so.  It is not unlawful.

The article does not indicate that one was overtaking the other, but it is unlikely that they were travelling at exactly the same speed as they approached the intersection. One or the other is overtaking and passing at some point.  The overtaking driver must insure it is safe to do so. Motorists are required to safely pass no closer than three feet from a cyclist. s. 316.083

If the lane is less than 14 feet wide, it is a substandard-width lane and if they are both within the lane and traveling side by side, the overtaking driver is violating the statute.

For a full discussion of substandard-width lanes, see this post:

http://flbikelaw.org/2010/01/substandard-width-lanes-updated/

Let’s disregard the lane width issue, and assume they were traveling side by side at the same speed as they approached the intersection.  What are their respective responsibilities?

The cyclist is apparently keeping right and riding legally unless passing on the right, which may or may not be legal, depending on the circumstances such as lane width.

The motorist is required to keep as far to the right as is practicable when preparing for a right turn.  If the motorist has left enough room to the right for a bicyclist, even one passing on the right, is the motorist as far right as is practicable?   If the motorist can’t safely move as far right as is practicable to prepare for the right turn because the cyclist is present, the motorist must slow and yield, then move right.  s. 316.151

The motorist shall not drive from a direct course unless it can be done safely and without interfering with the safe operation of any vehicle. s. 316.085

The motorist may not move right or left upon a highway unless such movement can be done with reasonable safety. s. 316.155

A full discussion of right turns at intersections and safe cycling practices is at this post:

http://flbikelaw.org/2009/08/138/

You may want to suggest that Doc read these posts and refer readers to Ask Geo for accurate information about cycling.

Posted in Ask Geo, Making Turns Tagged with: , , , , ,
4 comments on “Right Turns Again
  1. david says:

    Another way to look at it is this: Suppose you are in your car and are travelling in the right lane of a four-lane highway, that is, two lanes per direction.

    Would it be lawful for the car that is directly to your left-hand side, in the left lane, approaching the intersection at the same time, to cause you to have to stop in order to avoid a collision because he or she decides to make a right-hand turn?

    Who would be at fault in the event of a collision?

    You, as a bicyclist have all of the same rights and responsibilities as any other vehicle on the road.

    Think about it, it is as if you are being passed on the left (legal, but not at an intersection- unless the law in FL has changed) and then having your right-of-way impeded (also, I thought, against the law- unless, it seems, you are a bicyclist).

    We have so few rights. Cars don’t give us respect when we lawfully ride on a road, to the right as practicably as is possible. What’s worse, when we ride on shared paths, pedestrians burn holes into us with their indignant glares because, unbeknownst to them, we have the right to be there as well. It really is a no win situation.

    dpetra

  2. Geo says:

    Another question the Doc didn’t ask! Is this a two-lane roadway, with one lane in each direction, or a multi-lane roadway?

    If it is a two-lane roadway and the lane is less than 14 feet, which is probable, it would be necessary for the overtaking motorist to partially change lanes to pass. It is unlawful to use the on-coming lane within 100 feet of an intersection.

    s. 316.087 – Further Limitations on Driving to Left of Center of Roadway
    (1) No vehicle shall at any time be driven to the left side of the roadway under the following conditions:
    (c) When approaching within 100 feet of or traversing any intersection

    Impeding another vehicle isn’t necessarily unlawful. If the motorist had passed the cyclist well ahead of the intended turn, and the cyclist had to wait until the motorist could turn right, that is not unlawful. We are legally impeded by all kinds of situations all the time. See:

    http://flbikelaw.org/2010/05/bicycles-impeding-traffic/

  3. Eric says:

    I have learned to avoid this issue in it’s entirety by signaling and moving left into the traffic lane as I approach an intersection. I do this whether the light is red or green. If the light is red, I wait in line with the other traffic. Then I stay in line with all the other traffic, until clearing the intersection.

    In addition to eliminating cars turning right across my path, I have also found that cars that are turning left can see me and wait for me to cross the intersection before making the turn.

    The only downside to this is that it is not possible to “sneak” ahead on the right to the front of the line, but it doesn’t much matter. On streets with substandard width lanes, much of the time there is at least one car hugging the curb, stopping forward progress, and on streets that have over sized width lanes, it is much easier to cross the intersection without drivers “brushing me back” making right turns, when the light changes like they do to pedestrians trying to cross in the the crosswalk.

  4. Geo says:

    Eric,

    Excellent! That is the action described in the link at the bottom of the post. I just discovered the link didn’t work, so it should be ok now.

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