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Model Where To Ride Law
Where to Ride laws are an important part of a bicyclists’ right to the road because they regulate a bicyclists’ use of the road. In most states, the law that applies to bicyclists regarding road position starts with a variation of requiring a position as far to the right as “practicable.” The League's model law recognizes that the common "practicable" language is not clear enough for motorists, bicyclists, and others to understand how to behave appropriately.
It is our hope that the model law will make it easier to explain where bicyclists should ride to young riders, motorists, and law enforcement and enable bicyclists to make safe decisions about where to ride without disagreements over whether they can ride according to best practices for safe riding. If you have questions about the model law, similar laws, or how to advocate for this type of law please contact Ken at [email protected].
- A person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic shall ride in the right hand lane of the roadway subject to the following provisions:
- If the right hand lane is wide enough to be safely shared with overtaking vehicles, a person operating a bicycle 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.
- A person operating a bicycle may use a lane other than the right hand lane when:
- Overtaking or passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction;
- Preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway;
- Reasonably necessary to avoid conditions, including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards or lanes that are too narrow for a bicycle and a motor vehicle to travel safely side by side within such lanes;
- Approaching an intersection where right turns are permitted and there is a dedicated right turn lane, in which case a bicyclist may ride on the left-hand side of such dedicated lane, even if the bicyclist does not intend to turn right;
- Riding on a roadway designated for one-way traffic, when the bicyclist may ride as near to the left-hand curb or edge of such roadway as judged safe by the bicyclist; or
- Riding on parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles, including, but not limited to, contra-flow bicycle lanes, left-handed cycle tracks or bicycle lanes on one-way streets and two-way cycle tracks or bicycle lanes.
- A person operating a bicycle shall not be expected or required to:
- 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
- Ride without a reasonable safety margin on the right-hand side of the roadway.
- A person operating a bicycle in compliance with this section and not violating any other section of law is not impeding traffic.
The model where to ride law is primarily based upon Colorado’s law. It is meant to increase clarity about where a person on a bicycle can and should ride.
Section 1 provides a basic rule for where a person on a bicycle should ride. The basic rule is that a person on a bicycle should ride in the right hand lane of a roadway. This ensures that the bicycle is traveling in the same direction as other traffic and allows drivers to anticipate where people on bicycles are likely to be.
Section 1(a) provides a rule for sharing certain lanes with a motor vehicle. This section replaces the common requirement to “ride as far right as practicable” with a requirement to “ride far enough to the right as judged safe by the bicyclist to facilitate the movement of overtaking vehicles.” This alternative requirement explicitly balances the safety of the person on a bicycle with traffic flow in a way that is easy to explain to a person unfamiliar with bicycling. The requirement also empowers the person on a bicycle to make safe choices without providing an unlimited right to obstruct traffic.
Section 1(b) provides exceptions to the basic rule established in Section 1 so that people on bicycles can safely use and navigate roadways. These 6 exceptions may not be inclusive of every reason that a person on a bicycle should reasonably ride in a lane other than the right hand lane, however, they should cover the majority of the situations where requiring a person on a bicycle to use the right hand lane would be unreasonable and unsafe. The exceptions primarily allow a person on a bicycle to behave like any other vehicle, but some legitimize the use of roadways in ways only possible on a bicycle.
Section 2 and parts (a) and (b) of Section 2 provide a positive statement of where a person on a bicycle cannot be made to ride. This section is needed due to widespread misinterpretation of the current “practicable” standard and to address expectations of drivers of motor vehicles. This section is not intended to prevent a person on a bicycle riding along the edge of a roadway if they choose to do so.
Section 3 ensures that the model where to ride law provides a defense to a charge that a person lawfully riding a bicycle is impeding traffic. Bicycles are often slower than other vehicles, but a state’s rule to not impede traffic is not an acceptable way to enforce safe riding practices.
The model law only contains text for traffic rules. In creating legislation, you should feel free to draw upon the explanation of the law, talking points for similar laws, and other relevant sources to create a legislative declaration or preamble that explains the importance of the law to your state, legislators, and governor.
The model law assumes that all relevant words used in the model law have been defined in your state’s laws. If your state has not defined relevant words, e.g. “bicycle” or “lane,” then your legislation should address the definition of those words. The words used in the model law may have particular meanings in your state, for instance “roadway” can have a particular meaning in some states that is inclusive or exclusive of a shoulder. In creating legislation, you should feel free to use the words already defined in your state that best adapt the model law to your state’s existing definition. However, there may be times where this review of definitions provides an important opportunity to clarify these ancillary terms.
The model law is based upon current laws. You should feel free to propose new language that extends protection to bicyclists. In particular, there may be circumstances or infrastructure not addressed by the exceptions to the requirement to use the right hand lane provided in the model law. In addition, some states find it appropriate to be explicit about which lanes can be shared and which are too narrow by including a definition of those lanes in their law. You should work with transportation and law enforcement officials to understand the best way to enable safe riding throughout your state’s roadways. Please draw upon the resources provided by the League to find what every state does to protect bicyclists and create the best possible where to ride law for your state.
Most Where to Ride laws provide poor guidance to bicyclists, drivers of motor vehicles, and law enforcement about where a bicyclist should ride. All too often the requirement to ride “as far right as practicable” is interpreted so that the bicyclist is expected to ride far right as “possible” regardless of valid safety reasons to ride further left in a travel lane. The confusion of what is meant by “practicable” leads several problems, notably:
- Limited public knowledge about where a person on a bicycle should ride,
Inconsistent official statements regarding where a person on a bicycle should ride,
- Complicated education messages for individuals and the public, and
Interpretation being a defining aspect of the rule with little official guidance to law enforcement.
- The Model Where to Ride Law aims to improve understanding and provide an easier to discuss rule.
The model law is something that can be taught without additional explanation, potentially increasing public knowledge and understanding of the law;
- The model law uses plain English to remove the chance of inaccurate or inconsistent interpretations or explanations of the law;
- The model law explicitly balances the competing interests of bicyclist safety and faster than bicycle traffic flow;
- The model law is framed so that a person on a bicycle can make safe choices, so that any discussion of the law involves a discussion of safety;
- The model law provides positive statements that support where a person on a bicycle should ride; allowing easy reference if there is any dispute.
- To the extent that interpretation is still a feature of the rule, the model law provides guidance for how that interpretation should be made by adopting the bicyclists’ perspective.
- The League of American Bicyclists’ review of state where to ride laws, including citations to each state’s law.
- The League of American Bicyclists’ educational video and guidance on where to ride.
- A graphic heavy answer to common questions from motorists about why bicyclists ride the way they do.
- A very nice long explanation of where to ride in a variety of circumstances and the reasons for choosing where to ride by local advocates at bikeablerichmond.com and the Virginia Bicycle Federation.
What does “practicable” mean?
According to Dictionary.com, “able to be done or put into practice successfully.” If that doesn’t seem to add much to your understanding you are not alone. For a longer explanation of safe lane positioning, check out our educational video.
What does “as judged safe by the bicyclist to facilitate the movement of such overtaking vehicles” mean?
Any determination of where a person should ride a bicycle should be examined through the perception of a person riding a bicycle. If a person can safely share the road and allow other vehicles to pass they should do so, but not at the expense of their personal safety.
How many states use some version of a “practicable” rule?
43 states, and the District of Columbia, have a law that directs a person riding a bicycle to ride the bicycle as far right as “practicable.” This count includes states that do not specifically direct a bicycle to ride to the right, but direct all slow-moving vehicles to operate as far to the right as “practicable.”
How many states use some version of a “safe” rule?
8 states include the word “safe” in the portion of their law that directs a person riding a bicycle to ride to the right – Colorado, Maine, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Washington. Bicyclist safety also often comes up in other sections of this type of law.
Are there other alternatives?
Yes, 2 states - Massachusetts and Arkansas - do not require bicyclists, or slow-moving vehicles, to ride to the right edge or curb of a road. In those states bicyclists are simply directed to ride in the right-hand lane.