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« Bleeding for my art | Main | The private self and the public image »

Please, just go around me

More and more states are bringing in “Safe Passing” laws to protect cyclists. As they do, more and more motorists complain that they cannot safely pass cyclists on winding country roads without crossing the double yellow line and putting themselves and others in danger.

I contend that drivers are making more out of this issue than there really is. First of all, yes you have to cross the double yellow that is obvious. However, realize that it is a painted line, not a concrete barrier; you can easily drive over it and back again.

Second, get the issue in perspective; it is not like passing an eighteen-wheel semi. A bicycle is less than six feet long, and barely eighteen inches wide. A cyclist needs about a third of the lane width, maybe half, depending on the overall width of the road.

It is nice when drivers go completely over to the other lane to pass, but it is not always possible, and often it is not necessary. Just straddling the yellow line in most cases gives a cyclist enough room; a lot depends on speed.

If I am doing 20mph and a car passes me at 30 mph, it doesn’t bother me too much if I am passed at slightly less than 3 feet. However, pass me at 60 mph and I would prefer a lot more room. A good rule would be, 3 foot at 30 mph, and one more foot per 10 mph over that.

The main problem is that many motorists view overtaking a cyclist in the same light as overtaking another car. A sane person would not usually overtake another car if there is opposing traffic, say 200 yards away. 

However, the fact that a cyclist is moving at a relatively low speed is actually to your advantage when overtaking. You can safely pass a cyclist with approaching vehicles within 200 yards, even if you have to exhilarate from 20 mph.

Just do the maths. One mile per hour equals 1.467 feet per second traveled. A cyclist doing 20 mph would travel 29 feet in 1 second. (20 x 1.467 = 29.34 ft.) A car passing the cyclist at 30 mph would travel 44 feet in 1 second. (30 x 1.467 = 44.01 ft.)

Double this to 2 seconds for the sake of safety, that’s “One Mississippi, two Mississippi” and you are safely past the cyclist and on your merry way, back on your own side of the road.

Now let’s say there is a car approaching at 60 mph; your combined speeds are 60 + 30 = 90 mph. This equals 132 feet per second. (90 x 1.467 = 132.03 ft.) So 2 seconds translates to 264.06 feet, or 88.02 yards.

So if you overtake a cyclist with an approaching car 100 yards away you may be cutting it close, but 200 yards and you have doubled you margin of safety.

Plus, don’t forget you already doubled the time to pass the cyclist to 2 seconds; also remember, you are not in the opposing lane for the full 2 seconds.

The problem is, you get one timid driver who will not pass a cyclist if there is opposing traffic anywhere within the same zip code.

Traffic gets backed up, and everyone is pissed off. And who gets blamed, why the cyclist of course, when it is not he that is holding everyone up, but the damn pussy that won’t overtake.

So please motorists, the next time you see me out on the road, just go around me and stop making such a big fuss.


The article was prompted by this piece


Reader Comments (17)

Its amazing to me how inpatient drivers can be, ALL motor vehicles have at least two pedals, One makes it go fast the OTHER stops it, Whats the bloody hurry? so you loose two seconds by braking for a cyclist, pedestrian or another motorist, Maybe its the competitive life we lead, HAVE TO BE FIRST, NO MATTER WHAT! EVEN if anothers life is at stake. Think before you act! ANOTHER old grouch John Crump

July 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Crump

Right on Dave, well said.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with crossing the yellow line. It can be done safely and efficiently, but some drives seem to think it is an inviolable barrier that must not be breached.

Heck, I cross it all the time. If I see a bunch of kids playing the near street, I will cross the yellow line to get as far to the other side of the road as possible. This should be standard practice.

Part of the problem is that drivers coming the opposite way also don't respond intelligently. If there is some sort of road hazard on the opposite side of the road - perhaps a cyclist, or a child or loose dog, or a double parked UPS truck - you should pull to your right to make room for the traffic on that side!

Too many people want to drive as if they're on auto pilot - just keep going straight all the time, stay in their lane, don't speed up or slow down. In fact, safe efficient driving involves lots of speeding up and slowing down and moving around. If someone eases across the yellow line to get around a cyclist and you're approaching from the opposite direction, just slow down a bit and pull to the right to give them room, and then speed up again once you're past.

Of course this is hard to do if you're talking on your cell phone and eating and drinking and reading.

July 8, 2010 | Unregistered Commentercb

I don't know about the 'just pass me already' thinking.

I've done quite a bit of country, two-lane riding, and there have been so many near misses with cars passing me on blind corners that I'm just waiting for the day when 'it' finally happens. If a car is passing me dangerously, I'm scanning the side of the road to see where I can ditch to get out of the way of the carnage.

If I'm on a windy, curvy section of road and there is a patient car behind me (a safe stopping distance away), I will always pull into a driveway or side street or whatever and let them pass when I can. It's common courtesy. Usually happens in less than 30 seconds. Unfortunately it's rare to find a patient driver these days.

July 8, 2010 | Unregistered Commentereric

I always get a kick when a motorist pulls around and blows by you in hurry, acting annoyed - then you catch them 30 seconds later at the next stop light.

July 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDan O

The whole notion that passing a cyclist can be dangerous was the impetus for the bike ban in Black Hawk, CO passed earlier this year. There haven't been any actual accidents in Black Hawk, just a desire to "protect" cyclists. The City Manager, Michael Copp, says the town was worried about potential collisions between cars and bicycles on streets that were designed for horses and carriages. Nevermind that the speed limit on these streets is only 25mph and there is no way to cycle around the town without a detour of nearly 50 miles.

In case you're wondering, reports, "For the years 2004-2008, there were a total of 3 traffic fatalities in all of Gilpin County, where Black Hawk is located. The NHTSA specifically tracks pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities. Were any of these fatalities pedestrians or bicyclists? Nope — there have been a total of ZERO bicycle fatalities and ZERO pedestrian fatalities in 2004 through 2008."

Conclusion: "safety" was just a handy excuse to close the roads to cyclists. Which makes me wonder, when it's OK to restrict the rights of a few how do you know when to stop?

July 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDodger

Great point. I'm absolutely floored that the same drivers who won't cross a yellow line are okay with speeding, passing too close, texting while driving, running stop signs, etc.

An interesting point about leaving more space when passing at higher speed. A cyclist's perception of danger rises with the speed of the car traffic, definitely.

July 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBig Mikey

I believe in the UK The Highway Code allows motorists to overtake cyclists by crossing the centre line when it would illegal to overtake a motor vehicle. This makes allowances for the large speed differential.

July 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTim

In my state, Florida, it is legal to cross a double-yellow line to pass a cyclist.

Many drivers, particularly the older ones, seem reluctant to do so, however.

Nevertheless, the bigger problem is not people who are reluctant to pass but those who insist on passing, regardless of conditions. Cars in the other lane? Pass anyway!

I know one day on my commute I'll witness a head-on. I just hope I can stay clear of the steel, glass and rubber flying around when it happens.

July 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRider

Just today I almost saw 3 head-on's. Part of straddling the yellow line in order to pass a cyclist is waiting till there's not opposing traffic. These crazy people think that under no circumstances can they slow down for a biker. What's the guy in the other lane supposed to do? get there 3 seconds earlier? Come on...

July 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDave

You're right, Dave. I'm a motorist that cycles (not to be confused with those cyclists that really motor) and I have aways been able to safely maneuver around bicycles, pedestrians, and often even other motorized vehicles. Sure, it's alittle more techical when passing a bicycle to decelerate and check for oncoming traffic and than just alternating between the brake and accelarator pedals in your typical 5 mph stop-and-go traffic, but I think most people that aren't completely cartarded would be able to get the hang of it quite quickly. If only getting around all that motorized traffic on our freeways could be as simple.

July 8, 2010 | Unregistered Commentergottobike

YES! So true.People who won't pass and cause a lineup of cars that you get blamed for are one of my cycling pet peeves.

July 9, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermander

I'm gratified that the thing Dave's commenting on here has only 6 comments, compared to a lot here.

I wanted to say, first, the bit at the end, "cycles should not be used for commutation, and recreational cycling should be confined to designated bike paths," is one of the most insultingly ridiculous things I have ever read. what we need is fewer cars, not more, as the traffic fatalities Dave recently commented on show.

Second, in one of the comments, someone suggests that the police should, "impound the bicycles of those who go through red lights". How would that be any different from impounding the CARS of the copious people who tailgate through lights that have just changed? That happens, literally at every red light when there're any cars on the road, in EVERY city I've ever driven in, in the US and in Japan.

Obviously, cyclists need to obey the laws, but I'd argue that we can infer from the fatality statistics—and I seem to remember having read that the percentage of cyclist fatalities where the cyclist was found to be at fault was ridiculously low—that cyclists on average are obeying the laws at least as well as cars.

July 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterIra

The last paragraph of the original article is disturbing.
It's one that is implied in every "get off the f...k'n road" scream as an SUV goes by at 2X the local speed limit of 25mph.
This writer dresses it up but with it's pseudo concern for riders but it's the same view that roads are for cars.
I'm afraid that the recent call for bike lanes will result in their being the ONLY routes a bike rider can use. Hopefully, I'm an old enough codger that I won't see that day and have to become an "AGITATOR" once again.

July 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Baumann

“The bicyclists need to stay on the trails that were made for bikes and off the roads in southwest St. Charles County.” (MO).
Says Councilman Brazil

The first VinoFondo was held in this area and Brazil told the Post-Dispatch that the increased popularity of bicycling on those roads, especially in organized groups, causes a safety hazard.

July 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJack

In re the ban in Blackhawk....I doubt very much this had anything to do with safety. I was told second hand that the reason for the closure was that an organize3d ride wanted to come through town and had requested the road be cordoned off for a period of time. As you can imagine, the city council was in no way going to stop buses full of gamblers, or cars for that matter for any period of time. When the cyclists indicated they were coming through anyway, the town responded by closing the road.
I live in the area and cycle BH several time a year. This so-called ban actually amounts to a single sign posted very near the corner of 119 and the main road up into Central City. I've NEVER cycled that short section, and don't know anyone who does. Everyone I know takes the alley immediately to the north of that section of road and pops out beyond the street lights.
PErhaps they are only trying to keep cycles out of that one congested area? I'm going to try cycling over to Idaho springs this weekend, throgh BH and over the Expressway. We shall see what happens.

July 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterskylab

I think eyesight has a lot to do with it. Depth perception is a real issue for a lot of people, and even with decent eyesight, many people have a hard time telling where the right side of their car is. It isn't just bicycles. Watch them pass a semi while going the same way on a 4 lane highway. Most drivers will at least shade a bit over to the left even though they really have no need to. Some will move dramatically over to the left, even at the peril of colliding with traffic in the outer lanes. The size of the car doesn't seem to matter, though SUVs assuredly make the issue worse for people with depth perception problems because they are both wider and higher, challenging the driver's perception in two directions. I think that one of the reasons may be failing acuity in the eyes of a steadily aging population on average, as well as the lack of consistent use of corrective lenses. I have been astonished to discover friends who are otherwise intelligent people but drive without their glasses or contact lenses because they can see "well enough" to drive. With a loss of acuity and without corrective lenses, depth perception is a stronger challenge. But unfortunately, like hearing loss or using a cell phone while driving or drinking and then driving, few people really know how much they are impaired by their own negligent choice until they run over something or someone.

July 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjake


Dude your blog freaking rules! Now I must have one of your frames . I have british ancestry bigtime (see my last name) am a huge Raleigh fan.

I ride in CT , which has been ranked number 40 nationwide in bike friendliness. (DOT study)

The passing thing for me involves nowadays a lot of use by my dorky-geeky helmet mirror, which I cannot ride without anymore.

If I see (in my mirror) a line of 8 cars bearing down on me from the purged light, many times I'll just pull over for a sec, wave them on if necessary. I find many times this "good Karma" comes back to me when I need it, people are getting to know me in town here.

Often I will let them go, even if I have the right of way (depends on scenario). Especially during rush hour. The reason they are in such a hurry is because they have motors, therefore, they can be in a hurry.

On winding, narrow roads, especially with a loaded touring bike, obviously you can't evade as quickly so the stakes are higher. If I see a "hornet's nest" start to develop, with a chance of getting "bottlenecked" , Many times I will just pull over and toke on my water bottle and let it all clear out. Again, no hurries.

I would wave them on, You posted "just pass me!!!" but I think it helps to wave them on, they may be hanging behind you because they're not sure you know they are behind you.

This is a Ken Kifer move. I assume you know his stuff.

Truckers also demand special attention when climbing hills, they have to downshift then upshift 72 times, I don't blame them for getting pissed. Pull it over and wave a thank you wave, they're probably carrying a load of bikes .

October 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRobert Graves

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