Cyclists and motorists are mutually responsible for sharing the road

Earlier this week, a man—a bike commuter—dropped by our office to talk to me about HB 1018, the Mutual Responsibility bill. He had read the media report on the bill and the subsequent internet banter and he felt there was more depth to this legislation. He wanted to learn more. I was grateful that he took the time to better understand this legislation and I want to share that exchange with others of you who also have questions and concerns.
I also want to encourage interested individuals to read the Mutual Responsibility bill (with info boxes explaining proposed changes) on our website. Contact me, Dave Janis, if you have further questions about this bill.
What’s the purpose of this bill? What are you trying to accomplish?
HB 1018 recognizes that both motorists and bicyclists have a responsibility to safely share the road with each other, and addresses those responsibilities. We originally began this as a safe passing bill two years ago, but it did not pass. The Bicycle Alliance and its legislative committee listened to concerns expressed by legislators and law enforcement, then gathered additional input from bike clubs and other stakeholders to make this a more comprehensive bill for sharing the road safely. It is modeled after Mutual Responsibility laws that have passed in Colorado and Vermont.
The League of American Bicyclists, a national leader for bicycle safety and education, has reviewed this bill and Andy Clarke, the League’s President had this to say: 
In many ways, if HB1018 passes, it will set a new gold standard for the way a state vehicle code treats cyclists – possibly the first such major overhaul since the 70s. Significantly, while putting the cyclists perspective front and center, it is overtly multi-modal and reflective of the complete streets era.
What does the bill do in terms of assuring motorists pass bicyclists safely?
The bill defines two safe passing distances. At speeds under 35 mph motor vehicles must maintain a minimum distance of at least three when passing bicycles and pedestrians. At speeds of 35 mph or more, a minimum distance of 5 feet must be maintained to the extent it is reasonably feasible and safe. However, a minimum of three feet is still required.
I understand and appreciate the safe passing language, but how will it get enforced?
Law enforcement officials acknowledge that this will be difficult to enforce except in the most egregious of cases, but it can serve as a tool for public awareness. We have also clarified that it is ok for a motorist to cross the center line when overtaking and passing a bicyclist—when it is safe to do so—in order to allow for a safe passing distance.
Your bill says a cyclist must ride using the right through lane and ride as far to the right as possible. Why?
Bicycles are typically slow moving vehicles and rules of the road state that slower traffic ride to the right. The bill also recognizes that there can be exceptions to this rule and the bicyclist can judge what is reasonably safe. Exceptions include the road surface being free of hazards such as pavement defects and materials, and a safe distance from opening vehicle doors, personal safety of the cyclist, when a cyclist is traveling at legal speeds, making turns, or overtaking and passing another vehicle in the same direction.
But I may have legitimate reasons for not doing so. Riding far to the right may be unsafe.
The Mutual Responsibility bill is about motorists and cyclists safely sharing the road together and it clearly states that cyclists may choose to take the center of their lane for safety reasons. We frequently hear from cyclists that law enforcement and the public don’t always understand why cyclists need to take their lane, so we crafted this bill to include some specific instances when this is necessary.
Your bill forces me as a cyclist to use a bike lane or shoulder. I prefer riding in the road!
If you are traveling slower than the legal and normal speed of traffic and a bike lane or shoulder is present, you have a duty to ride there. And this is part of sharing the road. Again, there are exceptions to this rule—personal safety, surface hazards, making turns, etc. Other reasons a cyclist does not have to ride to the far right include while preparing to or making a turn, transiting a roundabout, or passing another vehicle or bicycle.
What is my obligation riding on sidewalks, crosswalks and trails and yielding to pedestrians?
Sidewalks, crosswalks and trails are part of our transportation system; they intersect with vehicle travel lanes, and are used by bicyclists. Cyclists riding on sidewalks, crosswalks and trails are expected to yield to pedestrians. Additionally, bicyclists on sidewalks, crosswalks and trails have the same protections as pedestrians and motorists must treat them as such.
This article was posted in Advocacy, Education, Issues & Advocacy, Safety, Share the Road. Bookmark the permalink. Follow comments with the RSS feed for this post. Both comments and trackbacks are closed.


  1. Posted May 23, 2011 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

    Far-to-the-right law? Mandatory shoulder use? Taking the lane only allowed under certain circumstances? Sounds like an anti-cyclist bill to me. And LAB is for this bill? They should be ashamed of themselves.

    A bicycle is a road vehicle – specifically designed for use on roads. I'm glad of two things:

    1. I don't live in Washington.

    2. My LAB membership is expiring. It won't be renewed.

  2. leo Stone
    Posted January 12, 2011 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

    One question BAW has not answered is what is wrong with our existing law that it should be scrapped? They have not shown any problems with the law as it stands today.

  3. Posted January 12, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    If the bill authors really want to reduce overtaking crashes, they should word it to explicitly endorse the defensive cycling practice of riding in the center of the travel lane so that motorists can see that they must change lanes to pass safely.

  4. Posted January 12, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    Reducing crashes requires that bicyclists ride a reasonably straight and predictable line without swerving. In contrast, the bill's mandate to stay far to the right increases the amount of unpredictable swerving that cyclists will do (avoiding road edge hazards) into the paths of motorists attempting to pass in the cyclist's lane.

  5. Anonymous
    Posted January 12, 2011 at 5:38 am | Permalink

    Andy Clarke of the LAB has now gone on the record opposing the mandatory bike lane/shoulder provisions of this bill, and says LAB had already been trying to get that language removed. That's more like the LAB I'm used to!

  6. Posted January 12, 2011 at 1:59 am | Permalink

    “Share the Road” sounded nice at first, but ended up not working very well in practice.

  7. leo Stone
    Posted January 12, 2011 at 1:12 am | Permalink

    Comment on share the road.
    There isn't any such thing as share the road. You either have Right Of Way, or you don't.
    You don't have Right Of Way over someone in front of you, telling a cyclist they must pull over to the right including the shoulder when being passed is telling the cyclist that any motorist behind you has right of way over you. THAT IS WRONG.
    The right to use a public road does not depend on what vehicle is used.

  8. Posted January 11, 2011 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    “we expect a significant increase in awareness among motorists, bicyclists, and walkers regarding “Sharing the Road(s)” effectively.”

    Don't hold your breath. Many of us have found that “Share the Road” means to many motorists “bicycles stay out of my way”.

  9. Posted January 11, 2011 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

    I most certainly do NOT have a duty to ride in a shoulder where one is present. Design standards for shoulders have absolutely nothing to do with bicycle use. Shoulders can start and stop suddenly, be full of debris and potholes, and vary wildly and quickly in width. Even if these are defined as exceptions to mandatory use, any of them can happen without warning, necessitating quick action. On an unfamiliar road, especially a multi-lane road where speeds are higher, visibility is important, and changing lanes to pass is preferable, it is NOT my duty to use a facility which has not been designed with me in mind. Period.

  10. beck the biker
    Posted January 11, 2011 at 1:41 am | Permalink

    HB 1018 is a erosion of cyclists rights in this state.

    BAW is selling out cyclists in the interests of getting safe passing more clearly defined.

    this bill will lead to a worsening of conditions for cyclists. this bill even codifies honking at cyclists.

    HB1018 is a bad compromise, and to see the BAW endorse this attaches a black mark of shame to the bicycle alliance.

    There will be vocal opposition to this bill at transportation advocacy day.

  11. Anonymous
    Posted January 10, 2011 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

    Bicycle Alliance, HB 1018 is NOT good for cyclists! I do NOT need motorized vehicles thinking it's okay to honk and yell at me until I 'get out of their way!' I never take the lane unless I need to because of safety, and this will ensure that I'm harassed daily if I do, as drivers seldom understand the reasons I might ride in the middle of the lane–such as a poorly designed bike lane too close to parked cars, a dangerous intersection, a car ahead of me with its right turn signal on when I am heading straight, etc. This takes AWAY rights!

  12. Anonymous
    Posted January 10, 2011 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

    “Andy Clarke, the League’s President had this to say:”

    Either Andy Clarke is speaking in contradiction to League policy to not support mandatory use laws, or he didn't actually read the bill. In Andy's case, both are very likely. I've seen him praise stuff without even looking at it. As long as it says “bicycle” somewhere, he's delighted.

  13. Anonymous
    Posted January 10, 2011 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

    This bill will also require me to operate curbside when approaching locations where right hook and drive-out traffic exists, rather than my current practice of moving to the center of the lane. This bill will take away my right to operate defensively and will guarantee harassment from police if I attempt to continue to operate safely and assertively. Cyclists shouldn't give up their right to the road in favor of a 3' law that will never be enforced and will have no effect on cyclist safety.

  14. Anonymous
    Posted January 10, 2011 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

    This bill is a disaster. I don't need a 3' passing distance law because I almost never get passed at less than three feet – normally I get passed at more than six feet. This is because I control the travel lane and don't ride on narrow shoulders and bike lanes.

  15. Anonymous
    Posted January 10, 2011 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    here's some comment from one of our local bike blogs:

  16. Anonymous
    Posted January 10, 2011 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    I have contacted Andy Clark, president of the League of American Bicyclists about his apparent support for this bill.
    He says that the LAB DOES NOT SUPPORT mandatory bike lane laws- sooo one of you isn't telling the truth.
    leo Stone WSCC.

  17. Anonymous
    Posted January 10, 2011 at 3:02 am | Permalink

    I rode yesterday, taking the center lane position when at traffic speed to protect myself from motorists blind spots, I merged into the lane to avoid right hand turn only lanes, I merged into the lane to be at the center position at stop signs and lights.
    All of which is safe and all of which would not be allowed under this bill.
    I have asked the Alliance to tell me why mandatory bike lane use is in my interest or how it will increase my safety. NO ANSWER.
    I believe it because it WILL NOT increase my safety. Frankly I am at a loss of why the Alliance would take such a anti-bike position.
    leo Stone, West Sound Cycling Club.

  18. Posted January 9, 2011 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    No mention of the fact that approaching an intersection from the far-right position is dangerous — and yet, understanding how to approach intersections is the key of the LAB's education program (which is a leftover from a much happier era, when LAB was better run). The LAB has sunk to a new low in endorsing this overtly dangerous law, even as, right down the hall from Mr. Clarke's office, there are reams of data available about why this is not a safe way to ride.
    This bill enshrines the notion that the primary obligation of bicyclists is to get the hell out of the way of 'bigger' traffic, even though doing so causes serious collisions. What a sad, sad view of cyclists' “rights.”
    Cyclists of Washington, unite in opposition to this legislative shame. It will make you unsafe, eliminate many legal remedies, and keep riders from ever learning how to be safe, confident and low stress. See the enlightened alternative at

  19. Posted January 9, 2011 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    In my opinion this bill is a piece of fluff being tossed to cyclists in lieu of a vulnerable users bill. Maybe it makes some kind of sense in the insider horse trading world of politicians and lobbyists, but I don't see that it offers me anything I don't already have. I think other commentator perform a great service in pointing out what we might lose if this bill is passed.

  20. Jeff Petersen, President 3 Rivers Bicycle Coalition
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    Thank you for all the work that you have put in behind the scenes to help make bicycling safer in the most “Bicycle Friendly State” (per LAB) in the U.S. Should this Bill become law, we expect a significant increase in awareness among motorists, bicyclists, and walkers regarding “Sharing the Road(s)” effectively. In the Tri-Cities, we are very hopeful for the passing of this Bill.

  21. Melanie in Tri-Cities
    Posted January 9, 2011 at 3:57 am | Permalink

    Unlike the other commenters, I don't think the sky will fall in with this bill. I think bicyclists are adequately protected as how far to ride to the right is your call. Most of what's here is common sense and courtesy–both of which seem to be lacking by motorists and cyclists these days. Maybe this can be used for education and public awareness. I, for one, prefer to use a bike lane or shoulder when one is present and in good condition. Will there be a requirement to clean and maintain bike lanes and shoulders if this passes? I hope so.

  22. Anonymous
    Posted January 8, 2011 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    BAW seems to be handing the ROW right over to Motor Vehicles no matter what. So if “traffic is present” then I must either move to a bike path (which are not prevalent at this time in any locale in WA State) or to the sidewalk. I am sure BAW is aware that sidwalk riding is more dangerous for cyclists, and pedestrians, than riding in the street? Or are they? Downtown Seattle, I'll be required to use the sidewalks which is the worst option imaginable.

    Don't let BAW or any other legislator fool you into thinking this Bill is anything more than granting the ultimate ROW to the motor vehicle, all other road users be d@mmed.

    Write to your legislators now, tell them to vote NO, and get involved.

  23. Anonymous
    Posted January 8, 2011 at 6:09 am | Permalink

    ” except as may be appropriate while preparing to make or ((while)) making turning movements, ((or while)) transiting a roundabout,….”

    Lane control is important in all intersections, not just roundabouts. Current law, without a mandatory sidepath/shoulder requirement, allows a cyclist to take the center of a lane in traffic before an intersection and through the intersection.

    Taking the lane for safe intersection control should be added to the list of exceptions to match existing legal protections.

  24. Anonymous
    Posted January 8, 2011 at 5:52 am | Permalink

    “Exceptions include the road surface being free of hazards such as pavement defects and materials, and a safe distance from opening vehicle doors, personal safety of the cyclist, when a cyclist is traveling at legal speeds,…”

    Cyclists are always traveling at legal speeds. Those signs are the MAXIMUM legal speed, not a required minimum speed.

  25. Anonymous
    Posted January 8, 2011 at 5:48 am | Permalink

    “The Mutual Responsibility bill is about motorists and cyclists safely sharing the road together and it clearly states that cyclists may choose to take the center of their lane for safety reasons.”

    Really? I can't find any text that clearly states this. Could you be more specific? None of the text boxes on the PDF explainnthis key provision, either.

  26. Anonymous
    Posted January 8, 2011 at 5:45 am | Permalink

    “safe” should include the right to ride far enough into a substandard width lane that motorists are aware of the need to change lanes to pass safely. That is protected by existing law and, if we are going to be saddled with a mandatory sidepath law, this needs to be yet another explicit exception.

  27. Anonymous
    Posted January 8, 2011 at 5:38 am | Permalink

    Bicycles are vehicles. This existing language requires all vehicles to use the right lane, with some enumerated exceptions.

    ​(2) Upon all roadways having two or more lanes for traffic moving in the same direction, all vehicles shall be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic, except…

  28. Anonymous
    Posted January 8, 2011 at 5:35 am | Permalink

    Bicycles are vehicles and traffic under the RCW. Thus, the language below would require motorists to pass to the left of cyclists, even when the cyclist is on the left, not the right.

    ​(1) The driver of a vehicle overtaking other traffic proceeding in the same direction shall pass to the left thereof at a safe distance and shall not again drive to the right side of the roadway until safely clear of the overtaken traffic.

  29. Anonymous
    Posted January 8, 2011 at 5:30 am | Permalink

    This language contains no requirement that a shoulder or bike lane be safe to use before it is included in the width of lane available for motorists to share the lane. You're riding next to an unpaved shoulder full of glass, but if the width of that shoulder plus the width of the lane is wide enough that a car could share this theoretical width, you have to ride to the far left. That's very poorly written.

    ​(5) When a bicyclist is being overtaken on the right and the lane, including any attached shoulder or bicycle lane, is wide enough for the vehicle to pass the bicyclist at a safe distance, the bicyclist shall ride as far to the left as reasonably judged safe by the bicyclist to facilitate the overtaking.

  30. Anonymous
    Posted January 8, 2011 at 5:23 am | Permalink

    When riding straight through on a road with a right turn only lane, a cyclist is not preparing to turn and does not fall into any of the other listed exceptions. in which case, this proposed language would have the cyclist ride on the right shoulder, to the right of right-turning traffic.

    Subject to the exception in subsection (1) of this section, a person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at speeds less than the legal and normal flow of traffic shall, when traffic is present, make use of a paved shoulder of the roadway or any specially designated bicycle lane, if such a lane exists, and such use is reasonably judged safe by the bicyclist.

    Other jurisdictions ticket cyclists for taking the lane in these situations because of mandatory sidepath laws where this is not an enumerated exception.

    The list of enumerated exceptions would need to be greatly expanded to match the protections of existing law.

  31. Anonymous
    Posted January 8, 2011 at 5:04 am | Permalink

    Washington Supreme Court says multiuse trails are not streets subject to the Motor Vehicle Code, one of the findings underpinning cyclist right of way in crosswalks under Pudmaroff. Is piecemeal extension of the motor vehicle code to MUTs really wise?

  32. Posted January 8, 2011 at 4:28 am | Permalink

    I've heard once or twice that this is an attempt to get a law in place because the Vulnerable User Bill failed, and that this is more of a “mutual reponsibilities” bill. Well, without the vulnerable user part, it still seems to me that if I get mowed down because a driver “didn't see me” I'm still screwed and they're off the hook. Why not roll the two into one bill?

  33. Anonymous
    Posted January 8, 2011 at 2:43 am | Permalink

    I had to post as anonymous, the site would not let me post my name. That question about bikes lanes is from leo Stone, west sound cycling club.
    To me it seems that there were some trade-off's from existing law to get a passing distance law. If so I really think that is a mistake, we should not give up the advantages of our current law to gain anything.

  34. Anonymous
    Posted January 8, 2011 at 2:38 am | Permalink

    Why is in our interest to have a mandatory bike lane law?

  35. Posted January 8, 2011 at 1:57 am | Permalink
  36. Posted January 8, 2011 at 1:51 am | Permalink

    I don't know that I care much one way or another about this bill. It's makes a nice statement, but I don't see anything that's enforceable or that will change life for those of us out on the road on bicycles everyday. Will we see a retry of the vulnerable users bill this year? All too often I read of a cyclist killed or seriously injured by an inattentive driver, and the drivers tend to get off with a slap on the wrist. I'd much rather see a law with teeth than yet another symbolic gesture.

  37. TESt Name
    Posted January 8, 2011 at 1:41 am | Permalink

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  38. Posted January 7, 2011 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

    Overall it sounds good as it is now, if they don't mangle it in session. But I do have questions about the shoulder rule and I'd like to see some revision there.

    What I would like to see is that where more than 1 car travel lane in each direction are present, and no designated bike lane cyclist may ride either in the Lane or on the shoulder at their own discretion.

    I guess this concerns me because on road in my neighborhood that I ride multiple times per day is a 4 lane 35mph limit road with very light traffic typical travel speeds of 40mph to 45mph. So according to this rule I must ride on the SHOULDER which does exist, but has hazards at 1/4 to 1/2 mile intervals, and is sloped a bit too much for comfortable riding. Yes, you can ride in it, but it isn't good. I generally ride this road a few inches to the LEFT of the white line. Because traffic is light and there are two lanes I feel that is reasonable.