Most of us have attended some kind of driving school. Either it was part of our high school curriculum or we attended a class on our own dime before getting our drivers permit. At the very least, we’ve all read through the Colorado Driver Handbook (or one like it from another state). The drivers manual includes a lot of basic information that any driver should know before hitting the road. But it doesn’t cover everything. And in some cases that can lead to situations where we, as a motorist, simply don’t know how to resolve a situation that we encounter.
One rule of the road that is not covered by the Colorado Driver Handbook, and that many people don’t seem to know, is that a motorist is legally allowed to cross a double yellow line to get around a cyclist if the oncoming lane is clear and the passing can be done in a safe manner. (See the end of the article for all the fancy-pants legalese.)
When passing a car that’s moving nearly as fast as you are, it takes a fair bit of distance to safely get all the way around them. A double yellow line tells you when you’re not in a safe place to try to pass another motorist. But when passing a bicyclist that is moving significantly slower than your vehicle, you can complete the pass in a much shorter time and distance. So despite the double yellow line, it’s possible that you have enough room to safely pass the cyclist.
Parked cars and debris on the right side of the road could mean that a cyclist will “take the lane.” In other words, they’ll enter into the space in front of where you’re traveling. Like anyone using the road, lane changes always require checking first to make sure the lane is clear. The cyclist should look, signal, and change lanes just like they would if using a car.
In 2009, vehicle laws were revised to allow motorists to pass a slower moving bicycle by crossing over a double yellow line as long as it is safe to do so. You still have to watch for oncoming traffic. As in any other situation when passing, if your way is not clear to make the pass, then you need to slow down and say behind the slower moving vehicle until it is safe to pass.
Two things to keep in mind while waiting and passing. There are rules against riding too closely to the vehicle in front of you. This pertains to bicycles as well. So hang back behind a bicyclist in the same way that you’d hang back behind a tractor or some other slow moving vehicle until you’re able to pass. And once you do pass, you are legally required to maintain 3 feet of distance between your widest point (which is usually your side mirrors) and their widest point (which is usually their handle bars).
Keep in mind that when passing a bicyclist, even if they’re hugging the far right side of the lane, you still need to allow for a 3 foot cushion between your widest point and the bicycle’s widest point. For a skinny lane like Kechter Road, it’s not possible to have both a car and a bicycle side-by-side within the same lane, as this photo of a dump truck on Kechter makes abundantly clear. Even if the cyclist were riding on the white line at the side of the road, the three foot buffer would still mean that any car on the bridge would have to straddle the yellow lines.
And with limited sight lines, any vehicles crossing the bridge over Kechter should slow down and travel a safe distance behind bicyclists encountered on the road. Once on the other side of the bridge, sight lines improve and it is possible to pass safely. (Or travel slowly behind the cyclist a little further and eventually the bike lane returns and you won’t have to worry about oncoming traffic.) Sometimes patience is the best policy.
Bridges can be real pinch points for traffic. It is always better to slow down and travel behind a cyclist for a short ways rather than to try to pass them on a short bridge like this one on W. Mulberry over an agricultural water ditch. Even when a bicyclist wants to hug the far right side of the road, at points like this, it is simply not possible. Add pedestrian traffic to the bridge at the same time and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
The city and county are working to address these bridges, but that costs a lot of money and takes time. In the meantime, be safe. Slow down and let slower traffic cross ahead of you. Wait to pass until you’ve crossed the bridge, even if sight lines are good. It is always better to play it safe than to be sorry.
On many county roads, there’s a shoulder where a bicyclist can ride. But if there is debris (gravel, sticks, animal carcasses, etc.) on the shoulder, the safest thing for a bicyclist to do is to get left and ride in the traffic lane until the shoulder is clear again. Sometimes this just means a short stint in the traffic lane. Other times it might mean a much longer period of time spent in the lane, especially around construction sites and gravel pits where trucks often drop or track all sorts of things onto the road. The passage of cars down the street generally kicks the crap out of the traffic lane, but it all ends up on the shoulder where cyclists might try to ride. All it takes is hitting a rock or stick just the right way, and that cyclist might pop up in the air and come down right in front of your vehicle. Nobody wants that. It’s safest for everyone if the cyclist gets left, “taking the lane” until the shoulder is clear again. So even if a shoulder exists on the side of the road, you still might come across a situation where you have to cross the double yellow line to pass the bicyclist. Just remind yourself that it’s better to make a safe pass than to run over someone’s father/brother/husband/friend.
Here’s the fancy-pants legalese way of saying that, as it’s found in the Colorado Revised Statutes. Title 42. Vehicles and Traffic. Article 4. Regulation of Vehicles and Traffic. Part 10. Driving – Overtaking – Passing. (Relevant bits are in bold.)
42-4-1005. Limitations on overtaking on the left
(1) No vehicle shall be driven to the left side of the center of the roadway in overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction unless authorized by the provisions of this article and unless such left side is clearly visible and is free of oncoming traffic for a sufficient distance ahead to permit such overtaking and passing to be completed without interfering with the operation of any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction or any vehicle overtaken. In every event the overtaking vehicle must return to an authorized lane of travel as soon as practicable and, in the event the passing movement involves the use of a lane authorized for vehicles approaching from the opposite direction, before coming within two hundred feet of any approaching vehicle.
(2) No vehicle shall be driven on the left side of the roadway under the following conditions:
(a) When approaching or upon the crest of a grade or a curve in the highway where the driver’s view is obstructed within such distance as to create a hazard in the event another vehicle might approach from the opposite direction;
(b) When approaching within one hundred feet of or traversing any intersection or railroad grade crossing; or
(c) When the view is obstructed upon approaching within one hundred feet of any bridge, viaduct, or tunnel.
(3) The department of transportation and local authorities are authorized to determine those portions of any highway under their respective jurisdictions where overtaking and passing or driving on the left side of the roadway would be especially hazardous and may by appropriate signs or markings on the roadway indicate the beginning and end of such zones. Where such signs or markings are in place to define a no-passing zone and such signs or markings are clearly visible to an ordinarily observant person, no driver shall drive on the left side of the roadway within such no-passing zone or on the left side of any pavement striping designed to mark such no-passing zone throughout its length.
(4) The provisions of this section shall not apply:
(a) Upon a one-way roadway;
(b) Under the conditions described in section 42-4-1001 (1) (b);
(c) To the driver of a vehicle turning left into or from an alley, private road, or driveway when such movement can be made in safety and without interfering with, impeding, or endangering other traffic lawfully using the highway; or
(d) To the driver of a vehicle passing a bicyclist moving the same direction and in the same lane when such movement can be made in safety and without interfering with, impeding, or endangering other traffic lawfully using the highway.
(5) Any person who violates any provision of this section commits a class A traffic infraction.