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Get Legal with Ray Thomas: Passing on the right from a rider’s perspective

Posted by on March 12th, 2015 at 12:30 pm

A ride with the family-3

Knowing how to legally pass on the
right can help you get to your destination
faster and help you breathe easier.
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

Today’s article will try to clear up confusion about how and when you are legally permitted to pass another vehicle operator on the right side of the roadway.

While Oregon law did not specifically authorize passing on the right before 2006, the law was clarified that year to follow the great majority of other states (and the Uniform Vehicle Code) in specifically allowing bicycle riders to pass other vehicles on the right when it can be done safely.

Bicycle riders complained for many years about the pre-2006 Oregon law that appeared to prohibit passing on the right when road users were sharing the same lane. In 2005, the Oregon legislature (thanks to lobbying by the Bicycle Transportation Alliance) voted to change the law so that passing on the right would be allowed “if the overtaking vehicle is a bicycle that may safely make the passage under the existing conditions” (ORS 811.415). The “new” law went into effect in January of 2006.

Here are the main points of the law that didn’t change in 2006:

  • You are permitted to pass on the right when a vehicle is in the same lane and turning left, so long as you (the passer) do not go off of the paved roadway in order to get around them.
  • Passing on the right in a bicycle lane (which is a separate lane from the regular traffic lane) is also allowed; but, as with all maneuvers, it must be done with “due care.”

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  • A bicycle rider may also leave the bicycle lane to pass “if the person is able to safely move out… for the purpose of passing another bicycle, a vehicle or a pedestrian” and “passage cannot safely be made in the lane” (as per ORS 814.420(3)(a)).
  • While riding your bicycle you are entitled to pass other vehicles (just like drivers do) even when a bicycle lane is not present. (Note that ORS 811.410 prohibits the overtaken vehicle from speeding up until they are completely passed.)

Here’s a closer look at the 2006 law:

Unsafe Passing on the Right.
SECTION 1.
811.415. (1) A person commits the offense of unsafe passing on the right if the person:
(a) Drives a vehicle to overtake and pass upon the right of another vehicle at any time not permitted under this section.
(b) Drives a vehicle to overtake and pass upon the right of another vehicle at any time by driving off the paved portion of the highway.

(2) For purposes of this section, a person may drive a vehicle to overtake and pass upon the right of another vehicle under any of the following circumstances:
(a) Overtaking and passing upon the right is permitted if:
(A) The overtaken vehicle is making or the driver has signaled an intention to make a left turn;
(B) The paved portion of the highway is of sufficient width to allow two or more lanes of vehicles
to proceed lawfully in the same direction as the overtaking vehicle; and
(C) The roadway ahead of the overtaking vehicle is unobstructed for a sufficient distance to permit passage by the overtaking vehicle to be made in safety.
(b) Overtaking and passing upon the right is permitted if the overtaken vehicle is proceeding along a roadway in the left lane of two or more clearly marked lanes allocated exclusively to vehicular traffic moving in the same direction as the overtaking driver.
(c) Overtaking and passing upon the right is permitted if the overtaking vehicle is a bicycle
that may safely make the passage under the existing conditions.

(3) The offense described in this section, unsafe passing on the right, is a Class B traffic violation.

In application, the 2006 law allows safe passing on the right which helps to make the flow of traffic smoother, and keeps bicycle riders from being stuck behind a line of exhaust-spewing motor vehicles.

Oregon law allowing bicycles to pass on the right is not unusual. The nationally recognized Uniform Vehicle Code Section 11-304(b) states that: “The driver of a vehicle may overtake and pass another vehicle upon the right only under conditions permitting such movement in safety.” With the changes in 2006, Oregon merely joined the great majority of other states that allowed the maneuver.

While it is possible to describe ways that passing on the right can be performed in an unsafe manner, the purpose of the law is to allow bicycle riders to move safely with and through traffic. A bicycle’s narrow footprint (relative to a car) allows the rider to fully utilize the standard width traffic lane and improve the roadway’s capacity to move traffic.

Thankfully, the law supports this common sense maneuver — but a law does no good if you don’t understand it and put it into action.

Browse our Get Legal with Ray Thomas story archives to learn more about Oregon bike law.

Disclaimer: This article is part of a paid promotional partnership between BikePortland.org and Swanson, Thomas, Coon & Newton.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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9watts
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9watts

We’ll see. I have a court date a week from today to defend myself against this very thing.
I received a $260 citation for filtering forward (to the right of the left turning traffic) southbound at SE Chavez at Powell. All southbound lanes were full of stopped cars (thus in my interpretation we’re talking about filtering forward rather than lane splitting). The policeman did not see me do this but he did pull over a person in an SUV who ran the red light from the southbound left turn lane. He blamed his red light running on me, so the cop gave us both $260 tickets for good measure.

Nik
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Nik

Unsafe passing on the right is a violation that is chronic among Portland drivers, particularly when the passer wants to turn right at an intersection. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been waiting to turn right when another driver has illegally passed me on the right (and other people behind me), in the parking lane, through a bus stop, or over the sidewalk, to reach the intersection first and cut me off.

Stretchy
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Stretchy

The rules cited above reference “Drivers”. Does this also apply to cyclists? IIRC, this has been a topic of debate here before.

Stretchy
Guest
Stretchy

Thank you for addressing this but, this is still pretty confusing. I have a question about an incident I saw several years ago as a pedestrian.

There was a car traveling eastbound on SE Belmont. It was rush hour so, traffic was backed up etc. The car signaled to make a right hand turn onto SE 33rd and began its turn. The car stopped its turn to yield to pedestrians who were walking on Belmont and crossing 33rd.

So, at this point, the car is still pretty much in the lane of traffic on Belmont but, has started a right hand turn with its turn signal on.

The pedestrians clear the intersection and the car continues its right-hand turn just as a cyclist, who is passing all the backed up traffic, passes the turning car on the right. There was contact but, not enough to knock the cyclist off his bike.

Where would the driver and cyclist stand legally?

cpac
Guest
cpac

So if I understand this correctly, when I’m on my bike and I approach an intersection where there are three cars ahead of me at a stop sign, I can legally squeeze to right of them and proceed to the front of the line and (eventually) through the intersection?

I see this happening often enough, but always assumed it was an common but illegal practice. I’ve avoided doing this because I thought it was illegal and because it likely appears like the person on a bike is “cutting in line” and annoys or enrages the people in cars in the way people get annoyed any time somebody cuts ahead of them.

This raises a question though of who has the right of way when a car and bicycle are stopped next to each other at a one-lane intersection. Who has the right of way? (if, say, the car is turning right and the bicycle is going straight, or if the bicycle is turning left and the car is going straight?)

soren
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soren

“Overtaking and passing upon the right is permitted if the overtaking vehicle is a bicycle that may safely make the passage under the existing conditions.”

Can Ray Thomas address whether he believes this statute legalizes lane splitting. It seems to me that it does because the language is broad and does not require use of the right-most lane. Moreover, the only statute that specifically addresses lane splitting is narrowly targeted at motorcycles/mopeds:

http://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/814.240

Mike A. Schwab
Guest

Passing someone turning right needs to be done on the left, or wait behind them. Otherwise you are asking for a right hook collision.

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

I too am curious if a bicycle rider may legally lane split – meaning, ride more or less on the line dividing two lanes, to the right of a car in the left lane, and to the right of a car in the right lane.

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

Regardless of what is legal, a prudent cyclist should not pass, on the right, a car that is signaling a right turn, if the pass will take place in or shortly before the intersection, alley, parking spot, or other possible reason why the driver is signaling.

Doesn’t matter if the cyclist is in a bike lane and thus has the legal right of way.

That is just common sense, ignoring it leaves you vulnerable to right hooks.

In fact, whether the car is signaling right or not, you don’t want to pass on the right in, or shortly before, an intersection. Plenty of drivers don’t signal.

Obviously, if traffic is totally gridlocked such that the car is boxed in and unable to move, then pass freely with a quiet smile.

Spiffy
Guest
Spiffy

Today’s article will try to clear up confusion about how and when you are legally permitted to pass another vehicle operator on the right side of the roadway.

the article failed because it didn’t:

describe ways that passing on the right can be performed in an unsafe manner

the article mostly just quoted the statute without giving any real idea of what a “safe” situation is…

and how long do those “existing conditions” apply?

extremely disappointed in this Get Legal article…

Steven McAtee
Guest
Steven McAtee

This is a very helpful article. Thank you!

Dee Railer
Guest
Dee Railer

Sorry, I am not clear on this…
>>>•Passing on the right in a bicycle lane (which is a separate lane from the regular traffic lane) is also allowed; but, as with all maneuvers, it must be done with “due care.”<<<
Does this mean an AUTOMOBILE may travel momentarily in the bicycle lane to the right of left turning or slower moving vehicle??? Yikes. ???

Tom Hardy
Guest
Tom Hardy

Only once have I been pinched off next to a curb by a driver with no turn signal turning right. I stopped so fast that my handle bars were still in my hands on the ground and I rolled off the bike after doing an endover. The pickup noticed my back wheel in the air and returned in the service station parking lot to appologize.
Since then whenever I get to another intersection with a right turn lane I split between the right turn lane and the straight lane at the light. Now cars regularly turn right there and some even get impatient and cut through the gas station making the attendents scramble out of the way. There is always 5 to 20+ cars wanting to go straight. There is a bike path across the intersection and I am usually the first one across the street when the light turns. Thankfully! The Beaverton police officers in cars and motorcycles and the Washington county sheriff deputies have been next to me when I was doing this with the Deputy on a motorcycle giving me a high five and “Good Move!” Intersection? SW Scholls Ferry and Allen.

Tom Hardy
Guest
Tom Hardy

By the way Ray, loved your bike law class in the 90’s, after I bounced off the rear window of a car. The next time I saw the car was 18 years later just after my son got married and his wife was driving it. Her grandfather gave it to her when he died.