A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Cars passing bikes: Just a reminder

Written May 2nd, 2020 by Hasso Hering


Because of a noticeable rise in the number of cyclists on mid-valley roads during the corona crisis, this may be a good time to remind us all of Oregon’s unique safe-passing law affecting bikes.

Some states require motor vehicles to pass cyclists at a certain minimum distance, usually three feet. The Oregon legislature took a different approach with a law it passed in 2007 following the death of a triathlete in a collision with a log truck in Lane County.

The law says a motor vehicle passing a bicycle must do so at a safe distance, and it defines “safe distance” as “sufficient to prevent contact with the person operating the bicycle if the person were to fall into the driver’s lane of traffic.”

That’s normally about 6 or 7 feet to the cyclist’s left. But the law makes important exceptions. It does not require the “fall-over” distance when the motor vehicle’s speed is 35 mph or less, or when the cyclist is in a designated bike lane next to the traffic lane. It also doesn’t apply when the cyclist is turning left and the motor vehicle passes on the right.

The bike lane exception is a problem on highways where traffic goes way faster than 35 mph. You would think that that’s where the fall-over distance requirement — if drivers knew about it — would be especially helpful.

When I recently rode up Highway 99E from the south, most drivers in the right-hand traffic lane moved left at least a little as they passed, as you can see in the video below. (But turn down the volume because the traffic noise is loud).

According to the law, they didn’t have to do more. But if I had hit something and spilled into their lane, that probably would not have been enough. (hh)

11 responses to “Cars passing bikes: Just a reminder”

  1. Ray Kopczynski says:

    I’m presuming you’re doing the videoing one-handed?
    I’m usually on the other side of Pacific walking from 53rd to south of LBCC and everywhere in between…when I’m out and about. :-)

  2. HowlingCicada says:

    When I rode thru the area about 10 years ago, I took extreme measures to avoid 99E.

    North on Looney Lane to where it curves east at LBCC.
    Walk the bike on LBCC “Wellness Trail” to where it meets a very different Looney Lane and north to its end.
    Thru Teloh Calapooia Park and various bits of trespassing to end up on 53rd east of Elk Run.
    North to the end of Elk Run and Moose Run.
    Don’t remember if I got any further north without giving up and hitting 99E.

    The north end of Moose Run is interesting because it’s noticeably narrower than the usual recently-built suburban street — much more attractive IMHO.

  3. Ray Kopczynski says:

    “Thru Teloh Calapooia Park and various bits of trespassing to end up on 53rd east of Elk Run.”

    There’s actually a maintained trail at north end of the park over to 53rd now. You can cross 53rd and, weather permitting, continue it all the way around the 53rd St. neighborhood…

  4. Jim Engel says:

    Being a “biker” and like to ride and knowing that drivers don’t give a damn between us & a bicycle rider…I giv’em (bike riders) as much room as I can. Goes for walkers/runners on the road. The “cager” operator ( as bikers call drivers) has all the comforts of travel…DAMN then…slow down a bit & be considerate! Ya, I’m spitt’in into the wind!

    • centrist says:

      You don’t tug on superman’s cape
      You don’t spit into the wind
      And you don’t mess around with Jim

  5. hj.anony1 says:

    More ads Hasso. Although this time it seems innocuous. RAD Power Bikes. Maybe you should get one. Just start it up and ride. No pedal power required.

    Oh yeah, green house emissions. We can’t seem to WIN for all this LOSING. *shrugs*

    I’ll stick to brisk walking….

    • HowlingCicada says:

      Thanks to you, I visited Rad’s site. The one I looked at weighs 73 pounds(ugh!). Each model comes in only 1 size (I think). Way too much E (750 watts) and not enough bike — the problem with half of the industry. The problem with the other half is … oh, never mind (same problem as the non-e bike industry). Bottom line: I would buy one if I could find something tolerable.

      When the right opportunity and mood coincide, I hope to write a global warming skeptic-friendly micro-treatise on how and why e-bikes will save the world (really).

  6. John Klock says:

    I agree with the bikers comments above. It is very dangerous for bicyclists. I worry that someone will be texting or not paying attention and veer into the bike lane for just a second.

  7. Jeff Senders says:

    Hasso, what’s new on the road widening project along south Riverside Drive? Connecting from the Grange Hall to the Hwy. 34 bike trail would be a safety improvement and also finish the job.

  8. HowlingCicada says:

    If you want a really dangerous ride, there’s nothing like Hwy 20 eastbound and downhill approaching Philomath. Steep drop-offs, mostly 2-ft. shoulders; about a mile has no shoulder. Curvy. High speed log and other trucks, not as many now but just as fast as always. I had forgotten how awful it was, but won’t make the mistake of riding there again.

    Fortunately, there’s an alternative: Cardwell Hill Drive, part of which is an ancient, sort-of subterranean, one-lane dirt highway, closed to motor vehicles but used as an evacuation route. Then west of that, there’s Harris road.


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