It’s Just Common Sense: The Safe Passing Bill

A member who’s a Kitsap County resident told us this story just the other day:

A friend and I were riding on NE Bear Creek-Dewatto Road in Mason County. Middle of nowhere – if you Google Map it you’ll see. (Our note: If you look on Google Maps you won’t see a street view–that’s how quiet this stretch of road is.) We were followed by a driver for probably two miles, maybe 8 minutes – actually we were concerned they were going to run us off the road or something similar because we were in such a remote location. We finally decided we had to slow to a near stop and just confront it and that’s when they passed us. When they finally came by, the woman in the passenger’s seat rolled her window down and said, “We didn’t think we could pass you because of the double yellow line.”

Why does something like this happen? Because on Washington roads it is illegal for a driver to pass a person on bike or foot by crossing the centerline of a roadway!
Washington Bikes asked on Facebook: "Tell us YOUR Safe Passing Bill story: You're on a road with a double yellow line and a driver wants to pass you. What happened next?" One of the responses: "Just a few nights ago, on S Kentucky in E Wenatchee, the car mirror barely missed my handlebar because the driver 'stayed in his lane' while passing me."

Mind you, a driver can cross the double yellow line to pass an “obstruction”–like a rock or a load that fell off the back of someone’s truck.

If you’ve ever crossed the double yellow lines on an empty road to safely pass a person walking or biking on the shoulder you know it’s just commonsense, courteous behavior and something responsible Washingtonians do every day.

We just want to make sure you don’t get a ticket for doing something so sensible. That’s why we introduced the Safe Passing Bill (SB 5564). It will be up for a hearing in the Senate Transportation Committee on Feb. 12, which also happens to be Transportation Advocacy Day, so we expect quite a few friends to be there listening.

 Washington Bikes asked on Facebook: "Tell us YOUR Safe Passing Bill story: You're on a road with a double yellow line and a driver wants to pass you. What happened next?" One of the responses: "All too often, drivers feel that they absolutely may not cross that line, but they also don't see hanging back until it's safe as an option either. If there's oncoming traffic, I will block them by taking the lane. However, if there's no oncoming traffic, too many try to squeeze past me while not letting their wheels touch that yellow line, resulting in an uncomfortably close pass."

The bill would simply clarify that a driver may legally cross the double yellow line “when overtaking and passing a pedestrian or bicyclist so as to maintain a safe distance of at least three feet.” Pretty simple, really.

Drivers are still expected to watch for oncoming traffic and make safe decisions. We just know that roads engineered for the closing and passing distances of motorized vehicles traveling at their rates of speed may have double yellow lines in locations that allow plenty of time to get around someone on a bicycle or on foot.

Do you have a “double-yellow” story? Share it in the comments below! To get word when it’s time to take action on this and other bills before the legislature, sign up for our email news.

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  1. John Aasen
    Posted October 2, 2013 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    Double yellow lines are frequently used on narrow two-lane roads to prevent a vehicle from passing on the wrong side and then colliding with an oncoming car coming around a blind corner. I think a law allowing crossing double yellow lines is a bad idea. A bicyclist might be momentarily safer but then struck when the two cars careen all over the road if they collide.

    • Barb Chamberlain
      Posted November 19, 2013 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

      We’d never recommend anyone pass on a blind corner. That’s why the legislation was carefully written to include references to passing only when it’s safe to do so.

      The length and placement of the double yellow line configuration is engineered for the relative speeds of one driver overtaking another driver, which takes a certain amount of time since both will usually be traveling at close to the same speeds. The distance it requires for a person in a car to overtake a person on a bike is much less. Thus it’s possible to pass someone on a bike with plenty of clearance–assuming you have the line of sight you need if you’re the driver–in a place where you wouldn’t have enough time to pass someone in a car.

      We think this one is good for people who drive as well as people who bike and we’ll be working on it again in the future.

  2. Posted February 13, 2013 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    This sounds like a well-intentioned bill, but I wonder: Does is mandate that drivers must leave at least three feet when passing? The excerpt you provided just states that drivers may cross the double yellow (if they choose to), it doesn’t say that they have to get over at all if they don’t choose to.
    I must say I haven’t run into many instances of folks appearing to be hesitant to cross the center line. What I see much more of is drivers crossing the center line, the fog line and any old line they wish to cross.
    The drivers that pass me too closely appear to either not think that they need to get over, or they make the choice to not get over. Most of the time they don’t slow down at all and just blast on by. I don’t see many that seem to have consternation over the thought of crossing a line.
    I do hope a three-foot bill or even a four-foot bill passes one day.

  3. Posted February 12, 2013 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    WA state law already says it’s legal to leave the right half of the road “When overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the
    same direction under the rules governing such movement” and specifically includes “bicycle” in the definition of “vehicle.” So why is this necessary?

  4. John McKain
    Posted February 12, 2013 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    Maybe this is why Mercer Is has the worst “passers” anywhere. They wait and wait holding up other cars and then pass by moving across the to opposite lane and gunning it. The MI’ers are watching the double yellow. Dangerous, alienating for cyclists, unnecessary. Passing can be done closer and with less holdup at a steady pace.

  5. leo Stone
    Posted February 11, 2013 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    This makes sense.
    I can control a narrow lane to protect myself and the motorist can legally pass me- perfect, this is what we need for safe cycling- love it.

  6. Posted February 11, 2013 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    Please pass this bill permitting cars to legally pass us cyclists by crossing the double yellow line when safe. Thank you.

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