Bicycles Passing on the Right


Anthony Asked:

If a bicyclist is traveling behind a vehicle in a substandard-width lane and the vehicle slows or stops can the bicyclist overtake the vehicle on the right?


I will assume a stopped or slowing motor vehicle as opposed to another bicycle, which is also a vehicle.  There are some laws that specifically apply to motor vehicles and not bicycles.

s. 316.003 – Definitions

(75)  Vehicle – Every device … transported or drawn upon a highway ….

(21)  Motor Vehicle – Any self-propelled vehicle … but not including any bicycle…

Also, for simplicity, let us assume a curb and gutter roadway without a paved shoulder.  The statutory definition of “roadway” does not include a paved shoulder.

(42) Roadway – That portion of a highway improved, designed or ordinarily used for vehicular travel, exclusive of … the shoulder.

The substandard-width lane provision in the statute seems to apply only to the “unsafe condition” part of the subsection that allows a bicyclist to leave the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway.

s. 316.2065 – Bicycle Regulations

(5)(a)  Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway …. shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except …

3.  When reasonably necessary to avoid any condition, including … a substandard-width lane, that makes it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge.  For the purpose of this subsection, a “substandard-width lane” is a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and another vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.

Note that the definition of “substandard-width lane” does not distinguish between a small vehicle and a large truck, and the width of the lane is, in itself, the authority for the cyclist to leave the right side.

There is some help in the Department of Transportation directives.  They say a 14 foot wide curb lane is wide enough for a motor vehicle and a bicycle to safely travel side by side.  Anything less is not.  Not a statute, but the closest thing we have to a “safe” sharable lane.

I believe the answer below applies to any lane width, and not just a substandard-width lane.

The specific statute that applies is:

s. 316.084 – When Overtaking and Passing on the Right is Permitted

(1)  The driver of a vehicle may overtake and pass on the right of another vehicle only under the following conditions:

(b)  Upon a street or highway with unobstructed pavement not occupied by parked vehicles of sufficient width for two or more lines of moving traffic …

(2)  The driver of a vehicle may overtake and pass another vehicle on the right only under conditions permitting such movement in safety.

Too bad the statute isn’t more specific about what “sufficient width” is.  The most important phrase though, is the last one.  If it is unsafe, it isn’t permitted.

What are “two lines of moving traffic”?  Another definition:

s. 316.003 – Definition

(57)  Traffic – Pedestrians, ridden or herded animals, and vehicles …using any street or highway for purposes of travel.

That doesn’t help much either, but it does give us a hint.  Bicycles are vehicles and traffic.  If there is room for a line of bicycles to safely pass the stopped or slowing vehicle on the right, that would seem to satisfy the intent of the statute.

But what is safe?  If the vehicle being overtaken is a very small car or a motorcycle on the extreme left edge of a lane that is 12 feet wide, it seems there should be room.  If the stopped vehicle is an 8.5 foot-wide tractor trailer truck that is two feet from the left center line in a 12 foot lane, there is only 1 ½ feet.

Although the 3 foot law only applies to vehicles (including other bicyclists) passing bicyclists, the minimum of three feet might be a general guideline.  We can’t hang our hats on that though.

s. 316.083 – Overtaking and Passing a Vehicle

(1)  The driver of a vehicle overtaking a bicycle … must pass the bicycle … at a safe distance of not less than 3 feet between the vehicle and the bicycle.

Usually things aren’t clear cut and someone must decide whether it is safe or not.   Who is in the best position to make that decision?  Who is most at risk?  Some cyclists are skilled enough to pass between objects with only inches to spare.  Others need more than three feet to feel secure.

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