Do we need SB 5564, the safe passing bill?


The Bicycle Alliance says it’s “just common sense” to allow the crossing of “double yellow lines on an empty road to safely pass a person walking or biking on the shoulder”.  They “just want to make sure you don’t get a ticket for doing something so sensible.”  We agree.  But has anyone actually ever been issued a ticket for this?

Here is what the Bicycle Alliance says:

Here is the bill:

It would change RCW 46.61.100 to add a section that allows driving on the left side of the road “When overtaking and passing a pedestrian or bicyclist so as to maintain a safe distance of at least three feet”.  That sounds like a great idea, but do we need this law?

RCW 46.61.100 already allows driving on the left “When overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction under the rules governing such movement”.    Bikes are vehicles, so this is already legal.  We are skeptical that the 3 feet language here will make any difference.

As for pedestrians, known among the impatient motorist crowd as “obstructions,”  the current code also allows driving on the left  “When an obstruction exists making it necessary to drive to the left of the center of the highway; provided, any person so doing shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles traveling in the proper direction upon the unobstructed portion of the highway within such distance as to constitute an immediate hazard”.

Finally, RCW 46.61.110(2) currently states that “The driver of a vehicle approaching a pedestrian or bicycle that is on the roadway or on the right-hand shoulder or bicycle lane of the roadway shall pass to the left at a safe distance to clearly avoid coming into contact with the pedestrian or bicyclist, and shall not again drive to the right side of the roadway until safely clear of the overtaken pedestrian or bicyclist.”

The proposed legislation does not seem necessary.  And yet we share the Bicycle Alliance’s goal to increase the safety of bicycling.  Why not legislate something that would actually increase safety?

We support legislation that would make motorists who hit bicyclists or pedestrians presumed to be at fault.  This presumption could be overcome by facts like a bicyclist’s failure to use required lighting during the hours of darkness.  If drivers think that they will likely be found responsible for hitting a bicyclists or pedestrian, it won’t be a matter of measuring 3 feet– they’ll try harder to avoid running us down.




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