Bill would officially allow drivers to cross double yellow to pass someone on a bike

A bill starting its journey through the state legislature would officially legalize something that nearly all careful and courteous drivers already do: cross a double yellow line in order to give someone biking or walking on the road a safe amount of space.

I imagine the typical response to this bill is probably: “Are you kidding me? That isn’t already legal?” That was my response.

The Safe Passing Bill (SB 5564) is headed to the Senate Transportation Committee tomorrow. Since I suspect most people driving have no idea that crossing the double yellow to pass someone on a bike is currently illegal, it simply makes sense to change the law to fit existing behavior. It would also give people who do not cross the double yellow for fear of breaking a rule or getting a ticket peace of mind to go ahead and give a safe amount of space.

For those who remember the so-called “Mutual Responsibility Bill” from 2011 this is NOT the same bill. This is also not exactly a three-foot passing bill, though it does make it easier for drivers to give three (or, preferably, more) feet. State law currently requires people driving to pass at “a safe distance to clearly avoid coming into contact with the pedestrian or bicyclist.”

More details from BikeWA:

We just want to make sure you don’t get a ticket for doing something so sensible. That’s why we introduced the Safe Passing Bill (SB 5564). It will be up for a hearing in the Senate Transportation Committee on Feb. 12, which also happens to be Transportation Advocacy Day, so we expect quite a few friends to be there listening.

The bill would simply clarify that a driver may legally cross the double yellow line “when overtaking and passing a pedestrian or bicyclist so as to maintain a safe distance of at least three feet.” Pretty simple, really.

Drivers are still expected to watch for oncoming traffic and make safe decisions. We just know that roads engineered for the closing and passing distances of motorized vehicles traveling at their rates of speed may have double yellow lines in locations that allow plenty of time to get around someone on a bicycle or on foot.

Here’s the proposed law change (underlined):

5564 by tfooq

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19 Responses to Bill would officially allow drivers to cross double yellow to pass someone on a bike

  1. Forrest says:

    Aren’t the Double-Yellow lines there for a reason?

    I have a friend who was in a head-on collision with someone who was passing a bicycle across a double-yellow around a curve on Lake Washington Blvd. She was lucky her young son was ok.

    If there are safe places to pass, maybe the lines should be changed to dotted instead of invalidating a safety measure already in place.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      That’s a good point.

      This law won’t change the fact that it is the driver’s responsibility to make sure they can pass safely. If they cannot, they need to slow down and wait.

      Passing a person on a bike also takes much less of an encroachment across the yellow than passing a car (which is what the double yellows were designed for).

      And that’s all a bit beside the point because people are going to pass anyway, and we want them to give space when they do so. In a perfect world, maybe people would happily and patiently drive at bike speed behind someone for what could be miles of double yellow. But that isn’t going to happen.

  2. Benjamin C says:

    A similar bill just failed in the Montana Legislature. I wish you guys luck over there.

  3. Mikala says:

    I gotta agree with Forrest, here.

  4. Mikala says:

    It seems like the truly curteous and cautious thing to do is to wait until it’s safe to pass — just like you do when passing a car. The double yellow line is there because you can’t see what’s coming around the corner or over the hill or whatever. Am I missing something?

  5. Andreas says:

    Joining the chorus: double yellows are there for a reason, and this doesn’t strike me in any way as careful & courteous. They’re not only putting themselves and other drivers in danger, but they’re putting the cyclist in danger too: if there’s a head-on collision 20 ft in front of me on a narrow road, seems like there’s a pretty good chance I might get hit by one of the ricocheting cars.

    The only conceivable way in which crossing the double yellow is the careful and courteous option is if the sole alternative is to pass me in-lane with just inches to spare. Which, unfortunately, does seem to be the only alternative many drivers seem capable of imagining. The notion of slowing down and waiting until it’s safe to pass never seems to enter their minds.

    Personally I think more cyclists need to be courteous and pull off from time to time if they’re slowing up traffic. But, then again, whenever I do this, 90% of drivers still insist on speeding up and crossing the double yellow in order to get around me even though I’m stationary and 4 feet out of the roadway. So hell if I know what the realistic solution is, but changing the definition of a no-passing zone doesn’t seem like a good idea.

    • Orv says:

      This brings up an interesting question — does the law requiring slow-moving vehicles to pull over if they create a backup of more than six vehicles apply to bicyclists?

      • LWC says:

        I believe the slow vehicle law does apply to bicycles.

      • LWC says:

        Some more detail I just dug up: the law requiring slow vehicles to use turnouts (RCW 46.61.427) seems to only apply to state highways. So this wouldn’t apply to, say, Lake Washington Boulevard. The relevant local Seattle law (SMC 11.53.040) doesn’t stipulate that slow vehicles must ever pull off the road; it stipulates only that they travel “as close as practicable to the right-hand curb”.

      • Andreas says:

        @LWC: The RCW defines “roadway” (the term used in 46.61.427) as the portion of the highway exclusive of the shoulder and the sidewalk. “Highway” is further defined as “the entire width between the boundary lines of every way publicly maintained when any part thereof is open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel”. Under those definitions, I believe the law applies to every public road in the state.

      • LWC says:

        Andreas – true, but the code starts off by saying “On a two-lane highway”. I’m not sure how that’s been interpreted by the courts, but it seems pretty clear to me!

      • Andreas says:

        @LWC: I’m afraid it’s not clear to you. The definition of “highway” used in that section of the RCW—which I quoted—is any public road. Perhaps the definition given elsewhere in the RCW (36.75.010) is clearer: “every way, lane, road, street, boulevard, and every way or place in the state of Washington open as a matter of right to public vehicular travel both inside and outside the limits of incorporated cities and towns”.

        “Highway” as used by the RCW (and the SMC, and most every other legal code in the land) does not mean just federal and state numbered routes, limited-access roads, that sort of thing; it means every public road.

      • Al Dimond says:

        Whatever the law, I tend to pull out to let cars by if there’s anyone stuck behind me and it won’t clear up shortly. This happens often on roads with street parking where I have to be out of the door zone but I’m much slower than the speed of traffic and there’s too much oncoming traffic for drivers to cross the center line (this situation is pretty rare most places and common in Seattle).

        What’s sad is that so many drivers don’t have the patience to wait out situations that will clear up in less than a city block — if I turn onto, say, NE 40th coming west from the BGT at 7th to get across the freeway to 5th, often drivers will come up behind me about a half-block before my turn and even though I’m already signaling my turn (and delaying them no more than a driver slowing down to turn onto 5th would be) they’ll gun their engines to pass. What a waste of gas and energy.

  6. X says:

    Agreed with everybody above the purpose of the double yellow. However, most of those double yellows have taken no consideration of whether it is safe to pass a bicycle. The standard for double yellowing a section of road is whether it is safe to pass a car. We need a grade of no-passing that falls between these two. Relevant example: much of the main campus road at the UW is double yellow. Some of it has short sightlines, some of it doesn’t; since the speed limit is 20 anyway, passing a car doesn’t make a lot of sense. However, if you didn’t pass the many bicycles going up hills, you could be stuck a while.

  7. Phillip Burger says:

    I would be supportive of the bill if drivers exercised good judgement. For example, using the least amount of the lane in the opposing direction. My experience is that when many drivers do cross a double yellow, many go all the way over the yellow instead of using the minimum amount of time and space to pass.

    A typical scenario where drivers currently pass cyclists is on Lake Washington Blvd. along the lake in Seattle between I-90 and Seward Park. Riding in the direction opposite of the passing vehicle, I have been scared several times of getting hit head on. I fear getting totally wiped out on someone’s windshield.

    It seems that when people are driving, they lose a sense of judgement of just how much space they are using when passing. I see this in tight spaces such as when drivers drive past a parked Metro bus. Their lane is still standard width, but they are uncertain of how much space they have between their car and the parked bus.

    I think this bill is dangerous, and wish that we didn’t need it. The three-foot rule is ok and is working as far as I know and as far as I’ve experienced. If drivers can pass safely with good judgement, using the least space in the opposing lane to safely pass, they should pass; no bill should be needed. My fear of head-on collisions involving two cars and one car-one bike collisions outweighs my wanting to provide this relief.

  8. Don Brubeck says:

    If you get all technical about it, and expect drivers and bike riders to start pulling out rulebooks while driving, you will be ignoring reality and might create a new class of distracted drivers. This is just trying to legalize a common sense practice that is already existing. I just drove down 410 from Crystal in a huge long leisurely line of cars with some idiot passing 5 or 6 at a time on curves to gain 3 seconds in line — you can’t cure that for love or money. But this is for those who want to obey the law and are want to color between the lines and might hit a cyclist because they are too timid to edge over a few feet past the sacred yellow paint. It is for our safety! GO FOR IT!

  9. merlin says:

    Not directly related to topic – but I wonder how people who drive cars interpret “give cyclists 3 feet.” I would bet many if not most think this means a TOTAL of 3 feet to ride in -rather than 3 feet clearance between the handlebars and the vehicle, which is what I think it should mean (although come to think of it, I’m not really sure myself). And what it all comes down to is this: bikes and cars are not a good mix. We need to get busy and build separated bikeways.

  10. Clark in Vancouver says:

    How about a bill that requires there to be a cycle path next to a road at the sections with a double yellow?

  11. Pingback: State lawmaker defends bike tax, says bicycling is not good for the environment | Intergalactic Bicycle ServiceIntergalactic Bicycle Service

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