The right third of the lane is the most frequently used portion of a roadway by the average to novice cyclist. By average I mean anyone who has not had any formal education on the legal requirements and safety benefits of lane control. Many a cyclist can be considered superior in all aspects of cycling and still be average to novice in respect to controlling the lane.
IS IT LEGAL?
Our first concern would be the legality of lane control. Is it legal to take up a large portion of the road?
The answer is yes.
There are two places in Kentucky Revised Statutes that we can look to for guidance.
The first is KRS 189.340 (6) (a)
(6) Whenever any roadway has been divided into three (3) clearly marked lanes for travel, the following additional rules shall apply:
(a) A vehicle shall be driven as nearly as may be practical entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from that lane until the driver has first ascertained that the movement can be made with safety;
If there is a lane, KRS requires you to occupy as much of it as may be practical and you can’t leave that lane unless it is safe to do so.
The second is KRS 189.310 (2)
(2) Vehicles proceeding from opposite directions shall pass each other from the right, each giving to the other one-half (1/2) of the highway as nearly as possible.
If you are on a two lane road half of that highway is yours. The other half belongs to oncoming traffic. No one to the rear of you has the right of way or priority.
A lot of people will point to KRS 189.300 and declare that any vehicle moving slowly upon a highway HAS to keep as far right as possible. But this isn’t what the statute says. I wrote an in depth analysis of KRS 189.300 Extremist thinking is hurting cycling. Please read it.
CHANGE LANES TO PASS.
Kentucky has no specific minimum passing distance. The reason Kentucky doesn’t have a minimum passing distance is because Kentucky requires all vehicles to occupy a lane of travel and when passing we “CHANGE LANES TO PASS.”
If there is a marked lane of travel, you operate in the adjacent left lane for passing. If it is a two lane highway, you pass to the left of the highway as described in KRS 189.300 and if you are on a completely unmarked highway, you still pass on the left side of the center of the highway.
When I was a little girl, my mom left the county clerk’s office after obtaining her Kentucky drivers license. My mom was visibly upset. I asked her what was wrong. She told me that the test was too easy and it must have been written for the hillbillies. She went on to explain that as she was coming out of the clerk’s office two men were waiting, next to a pickup truck, for their sister. The sister had passed my mom coming out of the clerk’s office crying. The two men said “you failed the test again?” My mom said “Those are the people we are sharing the road with.”
I mention this anecdotal story because Kentucky’s statutes are not hard to understand. The reason why the Bike League (League of American Bicyclists or L.A.B.) wrote a blog about the terrible condition of Kentucky’s laws is because they are so simple and to the point. Traffic laws which are complicated are more dangerous than those which are simple. Driving is tough. It requires your full attention. The majority of us do not operate with the intent of hurting someone and if you have to second guess yourself or stop and think “is this legal?” Someone will get hurt. For more detailed thoughts on this read “Traffic: Why we drive the way we do and what it says about us.”
Ok, it’s legal to occupy a full lane. But is it safe?
That is the question Judge Booth asked us to answer at my trial. It was a really complicated trial with all sorts of interesting plot twists. Though not interesting to me, more like frustratingly exhaustive.
Judge Booth had ruled that my operating on the roadway was legal. This was when the county attorney wanted to ban me from the road. She ruled against him. The question she asked us to visit at, what was supposed to be, my jury trial in front of her was “is it safe?”
We didn’t get to have that jury trial. I talk more about that in my book.
For now let’s answer the question.
IS IT SAFE?
You always want to be the first thing a motorist sees when they look up from a distraction, when they are trying to merge in and out of traffic, or when they are passing a slower moving vehicle.
I don’t want to discuss all of that here. At least not yet.
The first thing I want us to focus on is this. “If it’s legal, then it is safe.”
Traffic laws weren’t written to annoy or inconvenience anyone. They weren’t written for auto’s or invented at the time of the automobile. Traffic laws have been around since people were free wheeling around in chariots. Those babies could fly, but taking a corner. Yikes!
Traffic laws were written to keep public space orderly, courteous, and safe.
You stop at a stop light because it is safe.
You operate at speeds appropriate for road conditions because it is safe.
You do not leave injurious items on the highway because it isn’t safe to operate a vehicle through shards of auto glass after a collision.
All of these are statutes written in KRS 189.000, take some time and sit down and read through them. Read the definitions. There is a lot to learn there as well.
The scientific principle behind the safety of lane control.
It’s starts with understanding the limits of our peripheral vision.
Make a thumbs up gesture with both hands. Place them side by side at arms length. Pick a thumbnail to focus your gaze on. I typically ask people to look at their left thumbnail. Holding your left arm stationary, move your right arm out slowly to the right. Keep your eyes focused on your left thumb nail. With your peripheral vision look at your right thumbnail and once you can no longer clearly make out your thumbnail that is the limit of your peripheral vision. It isn’t as wide as you thought.
When you are operating a motor vehicle, you are focused on many different things. You might look down to see what rolled across the floor. You might look down to pick up your coffee cup. You might look down to adjust the MP3 player. You might look over your shoulder at the occupants of the rear seat.
All of these things take your eyes off the road.
The first place you look when you are undistracted is directly in front of you. Because that is where your brain has been trained to expect another vehicle.
Not on the edge of the lane.
When a cyclist is occupying the primary lane position, much like a motorcyclist does, they are placing themselves where you will see them. They want you to see them and respond. The appropriate response is to lower your speed limit. Start checking your mirrors and prepare to change lanes and pass.
All of your attention is on the road.
That’s why we control the lane. We want you to be aware of us. This is for our safety and for your convenience. If you had to explain to an officer why you struck us with your vehicle that would be one hell of an inconvenience. Don’t you think?
NOT SO FAST.
Now you might be thinking that a cyclist who is riding on the edge might have played some part in the collision which took them out. That would be a huge mistake. See the same statutes which give a cyclist the legal right to occupy a lane also require you to not hit anything with your vehicle.
So when a motorist in front of you suddenly slows down. Your first thought should be “Why?” and to expect something to be in front of them that you can’t see. If you read KRS 189.300 and 189.310 then you know that passing another vehicle isn’t a right.
You don’t have the right to pass someone and you are under the obligation to not hit other vehicles with your vehicle. When you rear end someone it’s your fault. Period.
There has been a whole lot written about the safety of lane control. You can read about it on the FAQ page of CyclingSavvy.
Share this with a friend. It will hopefully save their life.