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New Illinois Passing Law

Illinois has just passed one of the most comprehensive laws in the country specifying when a driver may legally pass a bicyclist in a designated no-passing zone. Governor Bruce Rauner signed the law, formally known as HB 1784, on August 25th. It goes into effect January 1, 2018.

The law adds clarity of Section 11-703 of the Illinois Vehicle Code. It states that,

A driver of a motor vehicle overtaking a bicycle proceeding in the same direction on a highway may. . . pass to the left of the bicycle on a portion of the highway designated as a no-passing zone if the driver is able to overtake and pass the bicycle when:
(1) the bicycle is traveling at a speed of less than half of the posted speed limit of the highway;
(2) the driver is able to overtake and pass the bicycle without exceeding the posted speed limit of the highway; and
(3) there is sufficient distance to the left of the centerline of the highway for the motor vehicle to meet the [legal] overtaking and passing requirements.

The new law also maintains the existing requirement that drivers provide bicyclists at least three feet of space when passing.

I worked with Ed Barsotti, Chief Programs Officer of Ride Illinois, on drafting this portion of the bill. Our goal was to provide as much clarity as possible to drivers to help ensure the safety of people on bikes in our state. Recently there has been a push nationwide to clarify when drivers may pass slower moving bicyclists on roadway sections signed or striped as no-passing zones. Road sections are generally designated as such, either with signage or double-yellow lines, based upon an engineering determination that passing at a speed required to pass a motor vehicle is unsafe. The lesser speed often necessary to pass a slower moving bicyclist generally does not play a role in the designation of a section as a no-passing zone. Illinois law currently contains a provision that permits drivers to leave the right half of a roadway “when an obstruction exists.” However, the Vehicle Code does not define what an “obstruction” is, leaving it up to individual police officers and judges to determine whether a bicyclist is an obstruction, akin to a fallen log, pothole or deer carcass, or not. Is a bicyclist always an obstruction, or only when riding at less than the posted speed limit? Also, the Vehicle Code grants bicyclists all of the same rights and duties to use the road as motorists. A person on a bike is not a mere annoyance to be end-rounded by people in cars. Aside from the practical lack of direction of the law provided, the message it arguably sent was that people riding bikes were second class road users.

We also hoped to do better with Illinois bicycle laws than other states that enacted similar laws providing drivers with too much discretion with regard to passing bicyclists in a no-passing zone. For example, in states like Maine and Mississippi a motor vehicle may pass a bicycle traveling in the same direction in a no-passing zone when it is “safe to do so.” It seemed more prudent to clarify that there are certain, clear instances when it will not be safe to do so; like when the driver must exceed the post speed limit to pass the bicyclist.

Our desire for greater clarity in the law was born of experience. In August 2016, I represented an Illinois bicyclist at trial who was injured by a driver who attempted to pass him in a no-passing zone in Libertyville, in Lake County. The driver, impatient at having to travel behind my client who had moved out into his lane to make a left turn, crossed a double yellow line and attempted to pass him in an intersection. The bicyclist had clearly signaled his intention to turn. He was struck while into his turn by the passing driver. Nevertheless, a responding police officer, adding insult to injury, ticketed the bicyclist for obstructing the roadway. The officer explained in his deposition that the driver did nothing wrong in attempting to pass when and where he did in light of the bicyclist blocking his ability to travel at the posted speed. He said, “It’s an everyday occurrence out there when you’re talking bicyclist. If he comes over a hill and you’re moving – and the bicyclists are moving slower than what the posted speed limit is and you come over the hill and you now have this option to either run them over because, as you said, the lanes are sub standard to fit both vehicles and bicyclists in it or to go around them, do the later part and go around them.”

We were able to have the ticket dismissed and we won the trial against the driver. However, the officer’s imprudent application of what he understood the law to be was a significant hurdle in achieving justice for our client. [Click here to read more about the case.] Illinois’ new bicycle safety law will allow for less independent interpretation regarding when a driver may safely pass a bicyclist.

Photo credit: I am Traffic

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