Rules of the Road: When you can pass on right?


Question: On a two-lane road like Birch Bay-Lynden Road, what is the rule concerning passing to the right when a car is stopped to make a left turn?

Answer: The short answer is if a vehicle is stopped to make a left turn you may pass to the right as long as you don't leave the "roadway." If you must drive onto the shoulder of the road (gravel or paved), it is technically illegal to make that pass. It is also illegal to pass more than one vehicle, so you must be the first in line to pass the vehicle turning left or again, it is an illegal pass.

This is the law that covers your question: RCW 46.61.115, When overtaking on the right is permitted. (1) The driver of a vehicle may overtake and pass upon the right of another vehicle only under the following conditions:

(a) When the vehicle overtaken is making or about to make a left turn;

(b) Upon a roadway with unobstructed pavement of sufficient width for two or more lines of vehicles moving lawfully in the direction being traveled by the overtaking vehicle.

(2) The driver of a vehicle may overtake and pass another vehicle upon the right only under conditions permitting such movement in safety. Such movement shall not be made by driving off the roadway.

You then need to look at RCW 46.04.500, Roadway, for the definition. "Roadway" means that portion of a highway improved, designed or ordinarily used for vehicular travel, exclusive of the sidewalk or shoulder even though such sidewalk or shoulder is used by persons riding bicycles."

Q: RCW 46.37.500 requires that fenders be at least as wide as tires for obvious safety reasons. Why are there so many trucks being driven with tires much wider than the fenders?

A: There is no good answer for your question. We have owners who want to make their truck "special." They lift it; put wider, taller tires on it or extra lights on it to make it distinctly theirs. Unless they find an officer who is actually looking for those violations, they will continue to drive those vehicles. Many officers are trying to keep up with the calls for service, so they don't have or take the time to counsel the drivers about the violations.


Rules of the Road is a regular column with questions and answers on road laws, safe driving habits and general police practices.

Answers come from David Wright, a retired officer from the Bellingham Police Department who is now serving on the Whatcom County Traffic Safety Task Force.

For previous Rules of the Road columns or to ask a question, go to

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