Bicycles are, like automobiles, vehicles under the Oregon vehicle code. In fact, bicyclists can legally drive their vehicles in the travel lane — which is the safest option in some cases. The law doesn’t require people riding bikes to ride on the shoulder.
How do you legally and safely pass a person riding a bike when you’re driving your car?
Oregon law (ORS 811.065) defines “safe passing.” The law requires that a motor vehicle driver who wishes to pass a bicyclist must drive to the left of the cyclist at a safe distance and then return to the lane of travel. What does “safe distance” mean? It means a distance that is sufficient to prevent contact between motor vehicle and the person operating the bicycle if that person were to fall into the driver’s lane of traffic. The illustration below depicts the safe distance.
A motorist must almost always use part of the adjacent lane in order to provide sufficient distance to safely pass a bicyclist, even if that means crossing over a double yellow line. The law allows for the motorist to drive to the left of the center of the roadway to accomplish this—when it’s safe to do so. What happens when there is oncoming traffic and it is unsafe to pass? Then motorists must slow down, follow behind the person riding the bicycle, and wait until it’s safe to pass.
This law applies where vehicle speeds are greater than 35 mph. It does not apply where there are designated bike lanes, which are almost always confined to urban areas and are clearly marked by an 8-inch wide, exclusive lane stripe, bike symbol and arrow. Where ORS 811.065 does not apply, a safe minimum distance to pass a cyclist is generally considered to be three feet.