Tag Archives: Passing

What does “Impeding Traffic” mean?

Earlier this year Salem cyclist David Fox had an encounter with an irate motorist on State Street, a three lane one way street that runs by Oregon’s State Capitol. Despite riding to the right on the street, the motorist became angry at him and told David “if I was impeding traffic, then I had to pull to the side. But I told him he had plenty of room to go around. The last thing he said was: ‘I hope you are killed by a car.’” David’s encounter led him to erect his own signs along State Street to educate road users about the law. He removed the signs shortly after putting them up.

Two of Oregon’s Rules of the Road that bicyclists are frequently cited for violating, ORS 814.430 Improper use of lanes and ORS 811.130 Impeding traffic, include references to “impeding traffic.” The term “impeding traffic” is not defined anywhere in the statutory vehicle code, and the definition of the term is not as simple as a lot of motor vehicle driver’s believe it is, including the driver that threatened David.

In 2005 the Oregon Court of Appeals defined what impeding traffic meant in State v. Tiffin, 202 Or App 199 (2005). In the case the defendant, Jacob Tiffin, was followed by two police officers on a two lane road in Josephine County with a posted speed limit of 40MPH. Tiffin was driving between 28 and 30 miles per hour. Despite there being several turnouts on the road, Tiffin continued driving with the police officers following him until he was eventually pulled over for violating ORS 811.130 Impeding traffic for driving under the speed limit. Tiffin was charged and convicted of driving under the influence of intoxicants. Tiffin appealed his conviction on the grounds that the police officers lacked probable cause to believe he had violated ORS 811.130 Impeding traffic because the officers could have safely and reasonably passed him but chose not to.

The court agreed with Tiffin and in doing so defined what it means to impede (or, rather, not impede) traffic: “here the officers were forced to slow down for only a fraction of a mile before they had the opportunity to pass defendant… [and] where the speed (of Tiffin) was not significantly below the speed limit, there were no other cars on the road, and if the officer’s vehicle was blocked at all, it was for a very short distance, if cannot be said that [Tiffin] violated ORS 811.130 by blocking or impeding the normal and reasonable flow of traffic.” The officers in Tiffin “were therefore not impeded or blocked – they could have safely and lawfully passed him but chose not to…there is no evidence that, before the officers decided to remain behind his vehicle and follow him, that he impeded ‘reasonable and normal’ traffic movement.”

How this case translates into Oregon bicycle law is that if a car driver behind a cyclist has the ability to safely and reasonably pass the bicyclist moving more slowly, the car driver is not “impeded”, even if they have to wait a fraction of a mile to do so. The driver who threatened David had ample ability to pass him by moving over into any of the other unoccupied lanes of State Street, but chose not to do so.

Charley Gee is a personal injury attorney in Portland, Oregon.  He focuses his practice on representing injured bicyclists and pedestrians at Swanson, Thomas, Coon & Newton.

Is it legal to pass on the right on a bicycle in Oregon? by Ray Thomas

Oregon law did not specifically authorize passing on the right until 2006, when the law was clarified to follow the great majority of other states and the Uniform Vehicle Code in specifically allowing bicycles to pass other vehicles on the right when it can be performed safely.

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In Oregon bicycles and motor vehicles share the same traffic lane and the fluid movement of traffic is in everyone’s best interest when performed in a safe manner. The Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) Legislative Committee persuaded the 2005 Oregon Legislature to change the law so that passing on the right would be allowed “if the overtaking vehicle is a bicycle that may safely make the passage under the existing conditions” ORS 811.415(2)(c).

Of course, bicycles are entitled to pass cars just like any other vehicle on streets without a bicycle lane.

The 2006 law allows safe passing on the right which helps to make the flow of traffic more smooth, and keeps riders from being stuck while stopped in a line of exhaust spewing motor vehicles.

Oregon law allowing bicycles to pass on the right is not unusual. The Uniform Vehicle Code Section 11-304(b) is a typical treatment of the issue: “The driver of a vehicle may overtake and pass another vehicle upon the right only under conditions permitting such movement in safety.” (National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances 2000). Oregon merely joined the great majority of other states that allowed the maneuver with the law change of 2006.

The bicycle is a legal hybrid in Oregon traffic law. It is a vehicle but also is allowed to share the same lane with motor vehicles. A bicycle’s narrow width of track allows the rider to fully utilize the standard width traffic lane and improve the roadway’s capacity to move traffic. The Oregon law supports common sense and smooth traffic flow in allowing safe passing on the right.

Ray Thomas is an Oregon bicycle lawyer with Swanson, Thomas, Coon & Newton.