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So I've been poring over the bikes SE, and as a recreational biker and an automobile commuter, I'm naturally most interested in topics addressing how bikes interact with automotive traffic.

In one particular question I noticed that it's legal in some jurisdictions for a biker to pass cars on the right at an intersection in order to move ahead of them.

This really surprised me, and it brought up a related question: is it legal to pass a car on the right when that car is making a right turn?? (In other words, a bike passing a car in such a way that if both maintain their intended path, they would collide.)

That may sound like a stupid question, but I have actually seen this twice in the last year. In one instance, I was the driver and I could see the bike approaching from behind at a distance. As I slowed to make my right turn, I glanced back at him and I could see that he was not slowing down. I slammed on the brakes and narrowly missed him as he whizzed by me on the right. I was in the right turn lane, he was originally directly behind me in the same lane, and there is no bike lane on that street.

In an earlier incident, I was walking my dog when I saw a car and bike collide under nearly identical circumstances. The biker was not injured badly but he did wipe out. I found myself sympathizing with the driver more than the biker. The driver was obviously not prepared for somebody to pass her on the right at 15MPH while she was making a right hand turn from the right lane.

Was his bike maneuver legal? Does the driver owe a biker that right of way? And if a driver hits a biker in this scenario, is the driver legally liable?

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What jurisdiction? This is different between countries, and different between states in the US. I think I can answer for California and Oregon, and I think most US states follow the same model as California or as Oregon. –  freiheit Sep 4 '12 at 4:17
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Also, it should be obvious that regardless of legality, it's a bad idea for a bicycle to pass a car on the right when the car is turning. –  freiheit Sep 4 '12 at 4:18
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In Russia it's legal: the law says that to turn right you must be in a rightmost position - so if there's a bike to the right from you - you're not :) But when commuting on a bike I try to get myself in the middle of the line, so that a car has no chance to hit me on it's turn –  k102 Sep 4 '12 at 7:17
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In the UK (where we drive on the left), "Do not ride on the inside of vehicles signalling or slowing down to turn left." - direct.gov.uk/en/TravelAndTransport/Highwaycode/DG_069837 –  Tom77 Sep 4 '12 at 8:12
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Whether it's legal or not, it's stupid. I do pass cars on the right at intersections, but only after establishing with reasonable certainty that they are not going to turn right (and keeping in mind that "Minnesota" is an old Indian word for "turn signals optional"). –  Daniel R Hicks Sep 4 '12 at 11:22

4 Answers 4

up vote 18 down vote accepted

Is it legal? That depends on the country's traffic laws and on the exact layout of the intersection. The traffic laws that I am familiar with (Denmark, Austria) indicate that the bicyclist you describe was wrong to overtake a right-turning car on the car's right side.

If there is a bike lane that extends through the intersection, then AFAIK the cyclist always has right of way. The car must wait until it can turn without blocking any bikes.

If there is a bike lane that stops before the intersection, or if there is no bike lane then the cyclist must place himself in the proper traffic lane. If he wants to go straight, he may not be in the right-turn lane.

As a driver, what I usually do coming to a stop at an intersection is to place my car so close to the curb that no bikes can pass on that side. Safety benefits:
If they want to go straight, they can safely overtake me on my left side.
If they want to turn right too, they must line up behind me and turn after I have turned.

As a cyclist, I always operate under the assumption that I am invisible, because too many drivers neglect to look for bicycle traffic. (They often neglect to check for any traffic, but that's irrelevant on this site.)

The above presumes right-hand driving.

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I also make sure I stop 2-3 car lengths before the junction so it's clear that the cars can safely turn right. I believe I have a right to be on the road, but there is no need to make life difficult for other users –  mgb Sep 4 '12 at 19:37
    
+1 for a great answer. I will be saving this answer and referring others to it. –  Rider_X Sep 4 '12 at 20:08
    
As an American who lives in the suburbs, the idea of a bike lane that extends through an intersection makes me all dreamy... –  Joe Ganley Sep 11 '12 at 18:17
    
What are your thoughts on vehicular cycling? I'm a big proponent. –  unforgettableid Jun 13 '13 at 19:47
    
@unforgettableid - if I understand your right, you mean bicycling in the middle of your lane. Motorcycles should adhere to vehicular cycling because they can indeed move with the flow but bicycles should not. For bicycles, that is actually not legal in the countries where I learned to bicycle (Germany, Denmark) because bicycles are small and slow vehicles; vehicular cycling would be dangerous because it obstructs the traffic. I would definitely not dare to do so except on small, narrow, slow roads. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jun 13 '13 at 20:01

It almost doesn't matter if it is "legal" or not. The real issue here is avoiding a right-hook accident. The sad truth is that no amount of law will make motorists look where they're not expecting to see a cyclist. And if there is a law that favors the cyclist, whether or not that law is actually enforced is utterly iffy. In other words even if it is "legal" passing a right-turning vehicle on the right is an extremely bad idea.

The traditional right-hook accident is best avoided by the cyclist's decisions and actions.

Fortunately, latest bike lane markings have been addressing this issue by re-directing the bike lane into the center of the right lane (or between the turning lane and straight-through lane, or even converting into a sharrow at the intersection). This is the correct path to take and the markings make it clear to both motorists and cyclists what is expected.

In the case where there are no clear markings or where they are just wrong, cyclists need to act in a vehicular way and hog the lane. Understandably this might be hard to do for many novice cyclists who often feel timid about mixing-it-up with cars, but that simple decision will protect them far better than any flimsy "right-hook" law.

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Yes, I agree, safety is primary, but I would personally never even consider passing a car that is turning towards me. That is why I phrased it as a legal question. –  mehaase Sep 4 '12 at 16:05
    
Yes, I think we can agree that the cyclists who do this are not expecting that a car will turn into them nor even have faith that any law will protect them. They're probably just trying to stay out of the way of traffic by riding in the margins and (for various reasons) don't feel good about putting themselves in spaces usually occupied by cars. –  Angelo Sep 4 '12 at 16:26
    
And with the bike lane markings you describe, the law usually dictates that a car turning right must first merge into the bike lane. (but cyclists should still assume they aren't seen) –  amcnabb Sep 4 '12 at 17:15
    
@amcnabb, I generally agree. Some interpretations of that, however, would conclude that if a cyclist assumes invisibility that he should stay to the margin of the road rather than squarely in the lane when it really counts. There's some nuances to assuming invisibility :-) –  Angelo Sep 4 '12 at 18:59

In California: motorists are required to block the bike lane (or get close enough to the curb to block any bicyclists from going between their vehicle and the curb) when turning right.

The CA Department of Motor Vehicles is now immediately failing drivers during driving tests if they do not block in this manner (or get reasonably close to the curb).

You will often see the solid white lines on the right hand side become dashed before an intersection, this is to signal that moving autos can move over at that point without being considered 'reckless' (since you're really supposed to stay in your lane most of the time, not that most people pay attention enough to do so).

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This is UK-based, but I'll using inside/near-side to mean left in a country where you drive on the left, and right in a country where you drive on the right.

Under UK law, unless you're trying to get a conviction for dangerous or careless driving, it's more useful to consider the civil system. There's plenty of case law here (particularly for motorbikes), and the liability often seems to be split based on whether the (motor) cyclist could reasonably forsee a risk, whether their speed was reasonable for the conditions and visibility, etc. I can dig out references for this stuff if you're interested in the details (IANAL, though - this is just advice I've received from others).

The upshot is, as a cyclist, that if you ride defensively you should avoid most collisions you could have forseen, and the other party would be more - or wholly - liable for any collision you couldn't reasonably have anticipated.


And as for riding defensively in the first place:

  • if there is a near-side marked bike lane, the cyclist would have right-of-way unless there's an explicit give way marking, just as if the motorist were turning across another lane of traffic.

    • even where the cyclist has the legal right of way, it's sensible to be cautious where vehicles might reasonably turn across you (even if they're not indicating), and it's obviously stupid to make progress on the inside of a vehicle which is indicating to turn across you.
    • if a vehicle stops in the inside lane at or before a junction and isn't indicating, they could be turning and just not bothering to signal, or they could be allowing an oncoming vehicle to turn across them
      • in the latter case, they likely won't check their mirror to see whether they're encouraging the other vehicle to breach a cyclist's right of way, and they'll often be positioned so neither a cyclist on the inside, nor the vehicle turning across them, can see each other. Slow right down, or change road position to improve your visibility
  • if there is no marked lane, you're "making progress" at your own risk, which means the onus is on you to avoid any accident or collision you could reasonably forsee. Since you could reasonably forsee lots of events you won't actually forsee unless you're constantly thinking and observing, you need to be alert to do this safely
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