How to pass a bike in a car without killing anyone (or being a dick)

Some things about driving a car are difficult. Doing a 180-degree e-brake slide into a parking space, for example. Or that famous kickflip in the James Bond movie The Man With the Golden Gun, which was so difficult nobody even attempted to replicate it for 40 years.

Another thing that’s difficult, apparently, is passing a person on a bike. A newish one-metre passing rule that has been adopted in Ontario, but is not yet being enforced, seems so difficult that drivers are outraged. It’s madness, it seems, to think that a grown adult with government-approved driving skills could possibly overtake a cyclist safely. The only options, if you believe the angry reaction, are maiming the cyclist or plunging headlong into oncoming traffic. The law, according to the reasoned comments in this CBC story, is “idiocy,” “sick,” and a “raging double standard.”

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We can empathize with the concern. After dominating the roads for the last 60 years with bully tactics and consequence-free killings, learning to share can be a challenge for some drivers.

But we’re here to help. Here are 10 tips for drivers trying to safely pass a cyclist on a road.

  1. Don’t kill anybody.
  2. If you approach a cyclist from behind, wait until it’s safe and then pass on the left, then give the person on the bike a wide berth, at least a metre (that’s about three feet). It’s OK to venture into the oncoming lane when doing so. Crossing that yellow line in this case is legal, and is preferable to killing that cyclist.
  3. If there are cars in the oncoming lane and you can’t get around that cyclist, just wait. There’s a pedal in your car next to the accelerator. If you press it, your car will slow down. Use it to reduce your speed and wait behind the cyclist until it is safe to pass.
  4. But what if there is a lot of traffic in the oncoming lane, and you can’t safely pass the cyclist? Good question. There are a few options here.
    1. You could lean on the horn to frighten the cyclist out of the way. Poor option: Dick move, and possibly illegal.
    2. You could rev your engine, preferably the six-cylinder type found in a half-ton pickup, and lurch toward the person on the bike to express your displeasure with having to wait. Poor option: Dick move, and possible illegal.
    3. You could accelerate and narrowly pass the cyclist, based on the theory that if you are going to endanger a person on the road, you might as well get it over with quickly. Poor option. Now illegal in Ontario, and many other places. Also a dick move.
    4. You could just wait until it is safe to pass. Good option. Legal, courteous and compliant with tip No. 1.
  5. But what if you want to obey tip 4d, but you have to wait behind that cyclist for a long time, like for 30 seconds, or even — gasp — a minute? That cyclist is slowing you, and all the people behind you, down too. Must you just sit there and wait until it’s safe? Even if you are in a hurry? The answer: Yep. Remember tip No. 1.
  6. But what if you’re really in a hurry? Like, say, you’re driving your daughter to soccer practice and you’re running a little behind, which means she’ll be punished with a set of pushups? Or you’re returning from an evening out and you want to get home in time for the season finale of the Bachelor, which promises the most dramatic rose ceremony ever, and that cyclist is just riding in that lane like she owns it, without even caring that she’s holding up the people behind her? Must you just sit there and wait, even if it annoys you? Yep. See tip No. 1.
  7. Imagine, for a moment, that person on a bike is driving a different vehicle, like a car. Perhaps a little Honda Civic, or, say, a Lada Riva. And she’s driving that Lada a little below the speed limit, and it’s holding you up. What would you do? You might get annoyed. You might vent a little frustration into your dashboard. But you probably wouldn’t try to roar past that Lada in the little space between the car and the traffic in the oncoming lane. You would probably recognize that person in a Lada has a right to the road that trumps your right to drive the maximum posted speed, even if it’s annoying. Got it? The same applies to a person on a bike.
  8. But driving too slow is against the law, you say. You can’t impede traffic. This is true. Kind of. Most jurisdictions have a law that requires road users to travel at a “normal and reasonable” rate to maintain the flow of traffic. But that doesn’t mean it’s illegal to drive slowly. The posted speed limit is a maximum, not a minimum. And if you are driving slower than that posted speed, you are often required to drive as close to the right of the lane as is practical. If you are on a bike, does “practical” mean that riding unsafely in the door zone, or in a gutter lane filled with dangerous debris and obstacles, just to appease the inpatient drivers behind you? I’m willing to bet most police officers and judges would err on the side of safety, rather than road efficiency or speed (because they see the consequences of reckless driving on the roads). So if you plan on arguing that you absolutely had to squeeze past a cyclist illegally because that cyclist was impeding the normal flow of traffic, good luck. Sure, you might win that argument, but it may be simpler to just wait until it’s safe to pass courteously. See tip No. 1.
  9. If you are a cyclist caught in this situation where you need to ride in such a way that traffic is building up behind you, my sympathies. This situation sucks. It’s stressful and unsafe. Yes, you have a right to do it, but consider those people behind you, and choose to pull out of the way occasionally to let those impatient drivers pass. Or better yet, find another way. Or even better, get your city council to build some separated infrastructure to eliminate such situations.
  10. See tip No. 1. Be safe.

Also published on Medium.

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25 Comments

  1. The impatience drivers have with bicyclists is usually not recognized for what it is. Impatience leads to risk taking, often crippling or ending a driver’s own life in an attempt to get even with a cyclist who is riding legally and safely. I have video recorded many drivers passing on a blind corner into oncoming auto traffic. The risks they take have the greatest dire consequence to themselves, usually more so than the risks to a cyclist.

  2. Chris

    I came out of downtown Toronto. Yes, I saw impatient Dick drivers with cyclists… but at the same time… I saw many Dick cyclists who broke every driving law imaginable. Share the road with cyclists… fine… I actually have no problem with that. Should cyclists be required to get a drivers license, plate their bike, carry their license with them at ALL times while on the bike, and follow ALL thew rules of the road??? Absolutely!!!

    • Sure, there are dick cyclists too, and obviously everyone needs to follow the rules of the road. But let’s enforce existing laws before dragging out the tired old argument about bicycle licenses, which have been tried and failed. I’d also argue that many of those laws being broken by cyclists — blown stop signs, sidewalk riding, etc. — are a result of cyclists being forced to ride in unsafe situations and conform to laws that weren’t designed for them. If we’re serious about getting bikes on streets, let’s make it easier and safer for them.

      • K

        If you’re going to demand the same rights, then you should be held just as liable as everyone else. I pay to use those roads through my taxes and licensing and registration fees. You should as well.

        • K

          I’ll follow my last comment up with this – i’d be happy if licensing for cyclists was mandated.

          My drivers license is about me confirming I can drive a car. It’s about confirming I can drive the streets. There’s a big difference.

          • K

            I actually hate that I can’t edit my comments. TYPO – Last comment was intended to state “My drivers license ISN’T about me confirming I can drive a car. It’s about confirming I can drive the streets. There’s a big difference.”

        • Shhhh. If word gets out that cyclists aren’t bound by law and don’t pay taxes, then everyone will start doing it.

          • K

            You’re really stretching that response.

            And if you don’t think that cyclists – having to abide by the exact same rules of the road as drivers – don’t require licensing, then you’re a hypocrite. Let me remind you that a license is an earned right.

        • Khal

          You don’t pay to use the roads through taxes and licensing. Driving is actually a burden on society and roads are far more expensive to upkeep. Bicycle taxing and licensing has been proven to be failures because it reduces bicycle use, and bicycle use provides money to the economy versus automobile driving.
          Here’s some reading material for you regarding this:
          http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/10/driving-true-costs/412237/ (“The True Costs of Driving: Car owners don’t come close to covering the price of maintaining the roads they use.”)
          http://movingforward.discoursemedia.org/costofcommute/ (“Canadian info-graphic data: What is the full cost of your commute?”)
          http://www.ibiketo.ca/guide/who-pays-roads (“Who pays for the roads?”

          • K

            Khal –

            To begin, I’m more willing to believe this then a bicycle blog. http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/ontario-drivers-pay-most-road-infrastructure-costs-study-says-casting-doubt-on-claim-roads-are-heavily-subsidized

            Please cite the sources for licensing issues related to bicycles – and leave out the bicycle blogs. I want unbiased research.

            And I’m by no means defending driving. There are many people who are forced to drive. Others can bike. It’s the way it is in a big city where so many people commute in from the suburbs for work. The reality is, the roads NEED to be shared. My point was, there are plenty of asshole cyclists out there who have zero respect for the rules of the road. So yes, in order to navigate the roads and use them safely, cyclists should be trained on the rules of the road, just like drivers. It’s a very simple thing. No need to complicate it. Licensing people to ride bicycles on city streets is a great solution. Leave out the cost. I don’t care – don’t pay a thing for licensing. But it should be mandated to improve safety and hold cyclists equally responsible as drivers for the same infractions.

          • Khal

            Only one of those sites was a “bicycle blog”, and that bicycle blog was summarizing a publication from the Victoria Transport Policy Institute. Read more than the URL before you skip the articles. The link provided from Ontario admits data is only most recently available from 2010, six years ago, and that it was initiated and paid for by the automobile association. No reason to doubt their information, of course, but nonetheless you have to remember that bicycle owners are also car owners.

            You seem to have misunderstood the licensing failing too. Being “free” to the individuals is not relevant. The cost is to the system, to society, not to individuals. Yes, individuals are less likely to register when it costs them, but they’re equally as unlikely to register even if it’s free. And then even more of society’s money is wasted in a registration program.

            What it sounds like you want, and I’d absolutely agree with, is to provide bicycling instruction and CAN-BIKE courses to school students through public education system, much like they do in more bike-heavy societies like Denmark.

        • Hal

          The VAST majority of cyclists own at least 1 car…and pay taxes, licensing and registration. They are doing you, me, and the planet a favor by keeping their cars off the roads while riding their bikes.

      • Peter

        I’d also argue that many of those laws being broken by cyclists — blown stop signs, sidewalk riding, etc. — are a result of cyclists being forced to ride in unsafe situations and conform to laws that weren’t designed for them.

        One issue I have with this is when cyclists create the dangerous situation for themselves and then complain about how dangerous it is.

        For example, consider a street with no cycling infrastructure. I’m on my bicycle and I’m taking the lane. All well and good. I approach an intersection where there are cars waiting for a red light. I squeeze down the right hand side of the road, passing all those cars waiting for the red light. I’m passing them closely but I don’t feel in any particular danger because they’re stopped. I get to the front of the line and stop to wait for the green light. The light goes green and we’re off.

        Now I’m sitting right next to a moving car. As I cross the intersection, I have no way to merge into traffic. “Three feet, people!” I yell as I cut into traffic, almost getting rear-ended by a car. Later on, I remark at how dangerous it is for me out there. A fellow cyclists suggests that I should run the red light so that I can take the lane on the other side while the cars wait at the light. It’s safer for me to run the red light than to merge into traffic. So the next time I’m at that intersection, I run the red light and I’m hit by a car. “Oh, woe is me!” I proclaim. “It’s so dangerous out there! I just got hit by a car! I’m lucky to be alive! Here I am, trying to be as safe as possible, and look what happens!”

        Well, no. If you were trying to be as safe as possible, you could start by not riding up the right hand side of the road. You know there’s no bicycle infrastructure. You did the smart thing when you took the lane. Then you gave it up and put yourself in a dangerous situation because you didn’t figure you should have to wait behind all those cars–there’s more than enough room for you to squeeze by on the right. Once the light turned green, you found yourself in a dangerous situation and rather than stopping and waiting for the dangerous situation to go away (e.g., waiting for traffic to clear before merging into the lane) you decided to keep going because you didn’t want to have to wait for those cars (but it’s okay for them to wait behind you). Later on, you decided to do something even more dangerous (crossing against the light) in order to get yourself out of the dangerous situation that you put yourself in.

        The solution? Wait behind the last car in line at the stop light like everybody else on the road.

        • I’m with you on this one. I often feel lonely sitting in stopped traffic on my bike while other cyclists squeeze to the front.

  3. K

    Agree.

    But there are a LOT of asshole cyclists out there. Every day I see them blowing through stop signs and red lights. I’ve seen them hit riders getting off streetcars. I’ve seen them hit pedestrians on sidewalks. I’ve seen more cyclists break laws then drivers, and there’s a lot more drivers.

    So, this is wonderful. BUT (and it’s a huge but) there should also be a lot of focus on asshole cyclists who don’t abide by the laws of the road. And yes, there’s common sense and common courtesy – but both sides need to learn that.

    #ShareTheRoad goes both ways.

  4. Matt Marshall

    Excellent article! The trouble is, there will always be someone pulling a dick move, whether its in the car, on the bike or even in the comment section of a blog. How do we get around that do you ask? Well, we need to educate- which is exactly what this article does. A pleasure to read, Thanks!

  5. Jeff

    Every article like this (excellent) one has lots of comments about how cyclists need to be held to the same standards as drivers. The problem with this argument is that drivers can kill people with a tiny mistake and little danger to themselves. Not true for someone on a bike. The high danger posed by a motor vehicle demands a higher level of responsibility.

  6. JC

    In the Netherlands (where I am writing this from), cyclists have the right of way. Period. Drivers are brought up on bicycles long before they become drivers, and they know it from experience. And they are also taught it in Driving School. If a car causes bodily harm to a cyclist, it is the driver’s legal fault, regardless of what the cyclist was doing. It’s a system that works, once everyone is used to it. Doesn’t mean that some drivers sometimes get frustrated, but that’s just part of life.
    The idea of licensing and regulating cyclists would be laughed out of existence in the Netherlands.

  7. Mark

    In Colorado you must pass at least three feet away from the cyclist. I ride a handcycle with two flags on the rear axle. I also use a large frame mounted mirror that gives me a wide view of the road behind me.

  8. Safe city cycling means knowing the rules of the road that apply to cyclists. Not only will following the rules keep us safe and traffic-ticket free, but it will also have a positive impact on the overall safety of the streets. After all, we’ll have to give respect in order to get it in return. Read up, these are our biking rules!

    Key:
    VTL= Vehicle and Traffic Law (New York State)
    RCNY= Rules of the City of New York
    AC= Administrative Code (NYC).

    See credr coupons .

    • Agreed. Cyclists of course need to obey the rules of the road. But I think we also need to be more forgiving of them. Often, when cyclists break the rules, it’s a result of insufficient infrastructure: when people don’t feel safe obeying the rules, they break them. It’s all about mutual respect. Thanks for the comment.

  9. Drive Slow & careful

  10. Government in India is also focusing much on the special paths for the cyclist. As to make our cities pollution free, this thing has to implement and also make it mandatory, if new road is building, then there should be special path for cyclist. As many people in cities want to ride through the cycle, however rough driving and no respect for the cyclist on the roads, discourage them.

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