Question: Is it illegal for a car to stop in a green bike box and how much is the fine?
Answer: With bike boxes being a recent addition to our local roads, it’s fair to wonder if there is a specific law prohibiting drivers from stopping in the green box. You won’t find a state law about bike boxes in particular, but that’s because we already have a few laws that apply. RCW 46.61.050 states that “The driver of any vehicle, every bicyclist, and every pedestrian shall obey the instructions of any official traffic control device.”
The word “device” sounds like some sort of contraption or machine, but in traffic law, “traffic control device” has it’s own definition. In this context it means, “all, signs, signals, markings and devices ... for the purpose of regulating, warning or guiding traffic.” Even though my middle school English teacher told me I should never define a word by using the word in the definition, our legislators made it pretty clear: If there is a traffic sign on a post or a marking on the pavement, as road users, we are required to obey it.
The leading edge of a green bike box is a white stop line, which fits the definition of a traffic control device. That stop line is also part of another law: at a red light, drivers are required to stop at a clearly marked stop line. Bike boxes are typically installed at signalized intersections, but if you were to encounter one at a stop sign, there’s a law for that, too. Like the traffic signal, “every driver of a vehicle approaching a stop sign shall stop at a clearly marked stop line.”
Since we already have three laws that could be used to enforce bike box violations, I don’t expect that our legislators will be drafting a new one any time soon. If they do, I’ll predict that the motivation would be to deter drivers by increasing fines, similar to what we did with school zones. Long before we had higher penalties for speeding in school zones, officers could enforce speed limits around schools. The law that enacted steep fines for speeding in school zones was kind of like saying, “you shouldn’t speed around schools; we really mean it.”
The fine is the same for violating any of the three laws that we’ve applied to the bike boxes: either $136 or $187. Why two different amounts? The higher amount is used when the violation is a contributing factor in a collision. On the one hand, getting charged extra when you’re already responsible for the damages in a crash might feel like adding insult to injury. But if I disregard the law and cause a crash, maybe I deserve the extra $51 fine.
However you feel about the fine, the easiest way to avoid it is by stopping at the white stop line instead of inside the green bike box. It takes some practice to overcome old habits and adapt to new transportation designs, but just like the roundabouts that most of us have figured out, we’ll get the hang of bike boxes, too.
Road Rules is a regular column on road laws, safe driving habits and general police practices. Doug Dahl is the Target Zero Manager for the Whatcom County Traffic Safety Task Force. Target Zero is Washington’s vision to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries to zero by 2030. For more traffic safety information visit TheWiseDrive.com. Ask a question.