Q&A: Can bicyclists use the entire traffic lane?

Rules of the Road is an online forum 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.

Question: Are bicyclists allowed to use an entire traffic lane when there is no marked bike lane nor shoulder?

Answer: Yes in some cases. The applicable traffic code is RCW 46.61.770 Riding on roadways and bicycle paths. (1) Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a rate of speed less than the normal flow of traffic at the particular time and place shall ride as near to the right side of the right through lane as is safe. There are many times when the right edge of the roadway is not a safe place to ride, so the bicyclist may move farther into the lane.

Q: Through the main street of Ferndale there are bicycle lanes, one traffic lane each way with a left turn lane at the traffic lights. When making a right-hand turn at a light, does the car - with turn signals on - or the bicycle - which is going straight - have the right of way or can a car infringe on the bicycle lane? It is very difficult to check right-side mirrors when also watching oncoming traffic and concentrating on good traffic flow.

A: The bicycle lane is for the use of the bicycle. If you are approaching a green signal and planning on making a right turn, you should be aware of any bicycles that you may be approaching or passing. If they are near the intersection, yield to them. If you can safely make the right turn without forcing the bicycle to take evasive action (slowing down or stopping to avoid your car) then you may make the turn. You must realize that many bicycles will be traveling nearly as fast as a car in a city setting.


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