You're driving along a 2 lane country road with a double yellow center line and you come across a bicyclist traveling along the right side of the road in your direction. Is it legal to cross over the yellow line to pass? If so, what is the proper and legal way to proceed? Let's explore this!
Believe it or not, it used to be "common law" behavior in Indiana for runners and bicycles to actually travel on the opposite side of the road, all the way on the left but toward the oncoming traffic. I know what you're thinking: "What?!". Well, it actually made a lot of sense…the auxiliary user could always clearly observe oncoming traffic, moving out of the way if need be. And, it is often safer and easier for the driver of an oncoming vehicle to spot an auxiliary user when this is adhered to. While it is still common to see runners and walking engaging in this method, some years ago Indiana passed a law forcing bicycles to travel under the same rules as cars and motorcycles.
Ok! So, as it turns out, it is technically illegal to cross a double yellow line, and this could warrant a citation being issued. However, the Indiana Driver’s Manual does offer some guidance when it comes to sharing the road with bicyclists:
From Chapter 5 of the Indiana Driver's Manual:
Drivers must routinely share the roadway with bicyclists. On most roadways, bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as other roadway users. Drivers should observe the following guidelines when sharing the roadway with bicyclists:
• Drivers may pass a bicyclist when there is a safe amount of room beside the bicyclist (three-foot minimum) and when there is no danger from oncoming traffic
• Drivers must yield the right of way to a bicyclist just as they would to another vehicle Bicyclists are prohibited on limited-access highways, expressways and certain other marked roadways
• A bicyclist is not required to ride in a designated bike lane because they have the right to use either the bike lane or the travel lane
• Avoid turning across the path of a bicyclist
• When a motorist is turning left and there is a bicyclist entering the intersection from the opposite direction, the driver should wait for the bicyclist to pass before making the turn
• If a motorist is sharing the left turn lane with a bicyclist, stay behind the cyclist until he or she has safely completed the left turn
• If a motorist is turning right and a bicyclist is approaching on the right, let the bicyclist go through the intersection first before making a right turn After parking and before opening vehicle doors, a motorist should first check for bicyclists.
Bicycle Lanes Bicycle paths and lanes shall be used exclusively for the operation of bicycles unless:
• Signage specifies joint use with pedestrians
• The driver is on official duty, such as delivering mail
Other rules for drivers or operators of any vehicle include:
• Do not drive in or park in bicycle paths or lanes, or place the vehicle in such a manner as to impede bicycle traffic on such path or lane
• Yield the right of way to an individual operating a bicycle on a designated bicycle path or lane
• Do not move into a bicycle path or lane in preparation for a turn
• Cross a bicycle path or lane only when turning or when entering or leaving an alley, driveway or private road
Sharrow markings are pavement markings of a bike with two arrows above it and are intended to help bicyclists position themselves away from parked cars and to alert other road users to expect bicyclists to occupy travel lanes.
Slow Moving Vehicles
Certain slow moving farm vehicles, construction equipment and vehicles drawn by animals may share roadways. You should use care when approaching and passing these vehicles. Be alert for the special emblem that the driver must place on the rear of the slow moving vehicle. A rider of a horse or horse-drawn vehicle has the same rights and responsibilities of a motor vehicle driver when riding on a public highway. Approach a rider with caution and be alert for any hand signals used by a horseback rider or the driver of a horse-drawn vehicle.
Well, there you have it. “Drivers may pass a bicyclist when there is a safe amount of room beside the bicyclist (three-foot minimum) and when there is no danger from oncoming traffic”.
If you’re traveling out of state, keep in mind that rules can vary from state to state. Here is some information regarding how this works in California:
“…it's a moving violation. You are suppose to slow down until you can safely pass. CA police have said they are "unlikely" to ticket for straddling the double yellow but are in no way obligated to hold to that. As a motorist I wouldn't risk it. As a cyclist I appreciate you looking out for my safety.”
“…the double solid-yellow does not mean you cannot cross it for any reason. Exceptions are allowed for an obstruction in the roadway (no, a cyclist is not an obstruction…it is part of the traffic flow).”
Bottom line: Take it slow and be courteous to all auxiliary users of the road. Around Indianapolis, all of Indiana, and the vast majority of the country they share equal use-rights and most often enjoy a right-of-way privilege. Stay a minimum of 3 feet from walkers, runners, and bikes, and only pass when there is a safe amount of room everywhere!