02

Blog

Far Right Practicable?!

What it means in Idaho, and elsewhere

Here in Idaho the law requires a cyclist to ride as “close as practicable to the right hand” side of the road.  It is this state’s version of the “as far to right as practicable” term common in cycling statutes across the country. Something like 40 states have a version of that language directing cyclists where to place themselves on the roadway when they ride. Cyclists, and frankly law enforcement, are often somewhat befuddled by what practicable means.  Often people, particularly car-centric folks, try to interpret it to mean as far to the right as possible.  In my view, that interpretation is clearly inaccurate. But it is that interpretation that leads to ticketing or cyclists or claims in civil litigation that the cyclist has some fault when hit from behind by a motor vehicle.

The Idea Underlying the Use of Practicable is Safety

My basic position on the meaning of the term “as far to the right as practicable” is that a cyclist is required to ride as far to the right as they can reasonably and safely accomplish given the conditions present at the time.  

That means, in part, it is not the same for all cyclists because of the variety of skills they bring to the road.  Identifying what is “practicable” generally requires an assessment of the circumstances on the road. This includes the skills of the road users as well as the roadway and weather conditions at a particular place and time.

Another way of looking at it is the law provides cyclists the discretion to “take the lane” according to that cyclist’s personal judgment of their personal safety based on all the relevant circumstances.

This view has prevailed in Idaho court proceedings where a cyclist was ticketed for failure to abide by the “far to the right as practicable” law.   

One State’s Statutory Use of Practicable

Idaho Code 49-717, my state’s version of the where you should ride law, provides:

Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except under any of the following situations:

(a) When overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction.

(b) When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.

(c) When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions including fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards or substandard width lanes that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge.

It is that third set of exceptions in (c) that provides a broad list of scenarios that are based on the concept of cyclist’s safety.  If fact, there are a couple of old reported Idaho court cases that expressly hold the failure of a cyclist to ride on the shoulder (or as far to the right as possible) is not in and of itself improper. Kelley v. Bruch, 415 P.2d 693 (Idaho 1966); Maier v. Minidoka County Motor Co., 105 P.2d 1076 (Idaho 1940).  In these case the court says the actions of the cyclist have to be judged under the circumstances at hand.

It is also worth noting that the Idaho Transportation Department’s road design manual states that an appropriate, shareable, lane is 14 feet wide. Many roadway lanes are less than 14 feet so there is always a good argument that a less than 14-foot-wide lane is “substandard.”   And, under the statute, anytime a lane is substandard the “as close to the right as practicable” language is no longer relevant to the cyclists’ position on the roadway. Because when a lane is substandard the law empowers the cyclist to use the entire lane.

The Underlying Reason for the Law is Cyclist Safety

There is not a definitive Idaho court ruling that this analysis is correct.  And, it might be argued that the REAL emphasis of the statute is to allow motor vehicles to travel more efficiently as opposed to focusing on the safety of the cyclist.  If that view is adopted practicable actually would mean possible. But on balance, in my view that is a far weaker argument.

But, for example, the City of Boise has passed an ordinance that on first glance seems to emphasize the flow of motor vehicles.  It requires a cyclist to move right if the cyclist is slowing a vehicle and putting the driver in a position that it is unsafe or illegal to pass the cyclist.  However, even in the case of that ordinance, the cyclist is only required to move to a position that is safe. So even that ordinance can be used to make the point that cyclist safety is the underlying motivation of the where to ride statutes.

Each state that uses the practicable terminology will have its own specific statute.  But when assessing the statute’s impact on a particular civil or criminal situation don’t get sucked into thinking about your statute in too narrow of a fashion.

Comments

Kathryn Doornbos
Danny Feldman May 20, 2019

Kathryn Doornbos is the executive director of Redemptive Cycles, a non-profit organization in Birmingham, Alabama operating since 2013.  Redemptive’s mission is to “redeem the streets” by getting more people on bicycles to make Birmingham a “more connected, comfortable and livable city.” Redemptive works to achieve its goal by selling many refurbished and some new bicycles, […]

Read More
Charlotte Ride of Silence
Ann Groninger May 16, 2019

This year was my 10th Ride of Silence and the 10th one Bike Law North Carolina has co-sponsored in Charlotte. Hearing the poem read and seeing the throng of bicyclists roll silently out, is always chilling, no matter how often I see it. And rolling back in, knowing that music, refreshment and followship await, is […]

Read More
Michigan Ride of Silence
Bryan Waldman May 15, 2019

Tonight, multiple communities in Michigan will join in the Ride of Silence, an annual ride that happens around the world to honor people who have been killed or injured while riding a bicycle on a public highway or road.  Additionally, the Ride of Silence is intended to serve as a reminder, or raise awareness, of […]

Read More
Ride of Silence
Bob Mionske May 14, 2019

This year marks the 17th anniversary of the Ride of Silence, which honors cyclists who have been killed by a motor vehicle collision. In 2003, Chris Phelan organized the first Ride of Silence in Dallas, Texas after Larry Schwartz was killed by a bus while riding. Larry’s death was horribly tragic for the Dallas cycling community. […]

Read More
Ann Groninger May 09, 2019

Earlier this year, I began working with Ann Groninger, representing bicyclists in North Carolina. I have worked as a personal injury attorney for more than five years. For many years, I’ve been an avid runner, completing my second Boston Marathon two weeks ago. Working with Bike Law North Carolina has inspired me to ride my […]

Read More
Brendan Kevenides May 09, 2019

As the train crossed from Belgium into the Netherlands my excitement grew.  I sat forward to get a better look out of the window at the country side. Then I saw them, beautiful, clean, pale red ribbons stretching through the low lying land.    They were bicycle paths; actually not so much paths as bicycle highways, […]

Read More
Rick Bernardi May 08, 2019

May 4, 2019. The team showed up with engines revved in close-to-full attendance for the Montinore Road Race, blessed with near-perfect racing conditions as temps pushed up into the 70’s. The race was 10 laps of 10 kilometers with a 3-minute climb to the finish each lap. We got to work immediately with the slick-easy-rider […]

Read More
Bicycle Death
Charlie Thomas May 07, 2019

I’m going to the Ride of Silence on the evening of Wednesday, May 15, 2019. This ride honors those who have been injured or killed while riding and raises awareness about sharing our roadways. If you’re in favor of this, come ride with us.   The Ride of Silence happens worldwide and is now in […]

Read More
Bike riding in Mesa
Brian Weiss May 06, 2019

When there is snow in the mountains and in the front range, I love to head west to Mesa County to ride bikes, visit friends, and hang out.  It goes without saying that Mesa County is a beautiful place with scenic views that can be seen from spectacular roads and trails. My favorite places to […]

Read More
Danny Feldman May 06, 2019

Alabama is considering 2 new laws which, if passed, will have a positive effect not only on bicyclists, but the public at large. The first of these is the “dead red” law.  Under this proposed legislation, a cyclist or motorcyclist, neither of whom have enough steel and/or weight to trip a sensor thereby changing a […]

Read More
Winston Salem Bike Ride
Ann Groninger May 06, 2019

I always say that my favorite thing about bicycling is getting to meet other people that are super passionate about bicycling. One of those people is Amy Easter. I’ve met Amy a number of times over the years at various advocacy events and was so excited to connect with her to talk about all the […]

Read More
Colorado Bike Law Enforcement
Brian Weiss May 06, 2019

Recently, I/Brian spoke at the Mesa County Bicycling Alliance Meeting in Grand Junction, Colorado.  At the meeting, I had a chance to talk with Colorado State Patrol (CSP) Captain Matthew Ozanic.  Captain Ozanic was very friendly, down to earth, and also practical about the enforcement of cycling laws in Colorado.   I had some time before […]

Read More
Load More