Thursday, January 30, 2020

Drivers, Move Over Three Feet or More to Pass: It's the Law

By Barb Chamberlain

People who drive, walk, use a wheelchair or ride a bike should be aware that a new law went into effect on Jan. 1 that clarifies how various users of the road are to operate. The law is intended to reduce the number of collisions and risks for vulnerable users of the roadway.
State law specifies who vulnerable road users are, and includes those on a bicycle, pedestrians and someone on a farm tractor, and it's important that everyone shares the road safely.

What's a vulnerable road user?

In state law a vulnerable road user is a pedestrian, bicyclist, motorcyclist, moped rider, someone riding an animal, or someone using a farm tractor or other vehicle or device used in agricultural operations that doesn't have an enclosed shell.
New state law says on one-lane roads, drivers
must move into the lane going the opposite
direction if it's safe to do so when passing
a vulnerable road user.

Driver requirements for passing

With the passage of Substitute Senate Bill 5723, the new requirements for drivers overtaking bicyclists, pedestrians, and other vulnerable road users are:
  • When there are two or more lanes in the same direction of travel, the driver must move left into the adjacent lane to pass, after making sure it's safe to do so.
  • When the driver has only one lane for traffic moving in the direction of travel, the driver must move into the lane going in the opposite direction to pass, if it's safe to do so. If not, they should pass when it's possible to do so at a distance of at least three feet and slow down to a safe speed for passing relative to the speed of the individual being overtaken.
  • Drivers must also allow sufficient space for safety when following behind a vulnerable user.
Bicyclist lane positioning

The new law clarifies an important element of bicyclist lane positioning. Washington law already specified that riders are to position themselves in the lane as far to the right as is safe. SSB 5723 specifies that riders may position themselves in the lane as needed to avoid grates, debris and other hazards. They may also bike in the right-hand turn lane even if it's discontinued after the intersection; this enables them to maintain position at the right side of the through lanes.
Bicyclists may use a lane of travel
as needed to avoid hazards like
debris and grates.

On a roadway with parked cars, riders know they need to stay out of the door zone. This is the space where a driver might open a door without first looking. RCW 46.61.620 already directs people not to open the door on the side adjacent to moving traffic unless this can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic. That's why we recommend the "Dutch reach," and it's another reason a rider might position more toward the middle of the through lane.

Pedestrians and accessible sidewalks

Pedestrian movements received an important clarification: They are directed to use sidewalks if the sidewalks are accessible. If not, they may use the shoulder or roadway. The law also clarifies that a pedestrian should move clear of the roadway "when practicable" if there's an oncoming driver. That's not always possible if, for example, there's a deep ditch or rock wall along the shoulder they're using.

Some sidewalks are not accessible due to lack of ADA infrastructure. Weather is another factor that can affect accessibility. With winter conditions affecting sidewalks, drivers particularly need to be on the lookout for people who don't have an accessible walkway available.

This video helps tell the story:
What's the penalty if I don't?

Fines for drivers who violate the new requirements are doubled, with those revenues going into a vulnerable roadway user education safety fund.