A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

An odd little law: Unsafe passing a bike

Written August 31st, 2022 by Hasso Hering

Queen Avenue has bike lanes, as here in West Albany, so the passing law does not apply, which seems strange.

This may be as good a time as any to remind us all about Oregon’s law on how drivers of motor vehicles are supposed to pass people on bicycles.

It’s a weird little law the Oregon legislature passed in 2007, and it seems kind of incomplete.

According to this law, a driver “commits the offense of unsafe passing of a person operating a bicycle if the driver violates any of the following requirements.”

The main requirement is that the driver must pass “at a safe distance” from the cyclist. A safe distance is defined as “a distance that is sufficient to prevent contact with the person operating the bicycle if the person were to fall into the driver’s lane of traffic.”

If a 6-foot rider sits on a bike and falls to his left, his head might well end up more than 7 feet from where he was when he was upright. So this law seems to require drivers passing adult cyclists to give them at least 7 feet of space.

Some drivers do this, and some don’t.

But here’s the odd part. The requirement does not apply when the driver is in a lane “separate from and adjacent to a designated bicycle lane,” or when the driver goes no faster than 35 miles an hour, or when the cyclist is making a left turn and the motorist passes on his right.

A cyclist’s risk of falling while riding along is small, but it’s no smaller because he’s riding in a designated bike lane. So why did lawmakers make that exception?

And why the speed exception? It’s OK to pass someone at an unsafe distance at 35 miles an hour but not at 36? Come on!

The 2007 bill on this subject, SB 108, had a tortured history. It started as a requirement for a “forward crossview mirror” on delivery trucks, which the Senate passed. The House killed that and substituted the unsafe-passing bike language, which the Senate then rejected.

A conference committee worked out the final version, which contained both the bike language and the requirement for mirrors on trucks.

Passing a bike rider at less than a safe distance is a class B traffic violation. The House-passed version said the maximum fine would be $360. But this law can’t be enforced until and unless someone on a bike gets hit and the police are called.

Emforcement or not, though, we’d all be better off if the law was widely known and generally followed, even adjacent to bike lanes and regardless of speed. (hh)

5 responses to “An odd little law: Unsafe passing a bike”

  1. MarK says:

    Well, I don’t think a person has to be hit. I would assume that if an officer observed a violation, a citation could still be issued.

  2. Jeff B. Senders says:

    The decision to ride a bicycle, scooter, or motorcycle for that matter is assuming the risk.
    The decision of where to ride likewise your decision.

  3. Craig says:

    Making the decision to drive a car, truck or bus for that matter accepting responsibility. The decision of where to drive is dictated by law. The driver of said vehicle is responsible for driving safely, obey the traffic laws, and respecting the rights of other drivers. The driver will also be held accountable if said laws are violated.

    Unfortunately the bike rider will be dead, similar to the incident this week on Riverside drive.

  4. Richard Vannice says:

    Everyone points the accusing finger at the driver.
    Lets look at some “Why not’s” Why not require the bicyclist to ride single file? I have on occasion seen them ride two and three abreast. Why not require bicyclists to ride to the right of the bike lane? I often them riding on the white line as if it were the “Bike Lane”
    Lets quit beating the vehicle operator until the bicyclists admit to the faults they have.
    Don’t get me wrong, I admire bike riders for their dedication and fervor and would not accept a law prohibiting them from use of the streets.
    I just ask for the same respect from them toward drivers as they seem to demand from from drivers.
    We both seem to have attitudes toward the other which we all need to look at.

    • Bela says:

      One thing that a auto driver often does not see or notice are obstructions or hazards in the bike lane that a cyclist must avoid by moving into the auto lane of travel.

      Another thing to notice is the photo posted above. There’s a marked bike lane which might seem roomy to car driver, but if you are a cyclist, you notice right away there’s a transition area that is not safe for a cyclist to ride within, hence, they need to stay a little closer to the white line. It really does illustrate how these designate “bike lanes” aren’t really much of a safe lane when you are a cyclist – almost giving it lip service.


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