Updating the basic bicycle law in Missouri - sample laws you can ask your city to adopt

One of the goals in MoBikeFed's Legislative Platform is to update the basic bicycle law in Missouri and in Missouri municipalities.

Advocacy for cyclists at the Capitol in Jefferson City and in Washington DC is o
Advocacy for cyclists at the Capitol in Jefferson City and in Washington DC is one of MoBikeFed's highest priorities

Most bicycle laws have a statement to the effect that "ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable" when riding slower than other traffic.  Missouri improves that by requiring cyclists in these circumstances to "ride as near to the right side of the roadway as safe" - which puts the focus on roadway safety, where it should be.

But perhaps there is a better approach--one that takes a positive approach in encouraging bicyclists to ride safely by staying far away from curbs, gutters, and ditches, encourages bicyclists to follow best practices as taught by nationwide cycling courses like the League of American Bicyclists Bike Ed, and at the same time encourages cooperation and safety by all road users.

Cyclists across Missouri have been working to update these laws in their cities and counties.  We now how two good examples--Ferguson and Lee's Summit.

Here is sample language you can use if you would like to work to update your city or county bicycle law.

Best practice sample language

307.190 1. Every person operating a bicycle or motorized bicycle at less than the posted speed or slower than the flow of traffic upon a street or highway may ride in the center of the right lane of travel, or may ride to the right side of the roadway, or may ride in the shoulder adjacent to the roadway as specified in 307.191 RSMo; such person may use the left lane of travel to prepare for making a left turn, or when on a one-way street.

2. Every person operating a bicycle or motorized bicycle on a roadway shall exercise due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction, when making turns, when streets or lanes are too narrow to share with motor vehicles, and may use any lane or part of the roadway reasonably required to make such maneuvers in safety and in accordance with the rights and duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle as specified in 307.188 RSMo.

3. Bicyclists may ride abreast in the right lane of travel whenever riding in the right lane of travel is allowed for a solo cyclist.

Ferguson, MO (as adopted, 2012)


Every person operating a bicycle or motorized bicycle at less than the posted speed or slower than the flow of traffic upon a street or highway may ride in the center of the right lane of travel or may ride to the right side of the roadway; such person may move into the left lane of travel only while in the process of making a left turn. Every person operating a bicycle or motorized bicycle on a roadway shall exercise due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction, when making turns, and when streets or lanes are too narrow to share with vehicles. Bicyclists may ride abreast only when not impeding other vehicles.
 

Lee's Summit, MO (as adopted, 2014)

Every person operating a bicycle or motorized bicycle upon a street or highway may ride in the center of the right lane of travel or may ride to the right side of the roadway; such person may use the left lane of travel to prepare for making a left turn, or when on a one-way street. Every person operating a bicycle or motorized bicycle on a roadway shall exercise due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction, when making turns, and when streets or lanes are too narrow to share with motor vehicles. Bicyclists may ride abreast in the lane of travel.

 

Current Missouri State Law

307.188. Rights and duties of bicycle and motorized bicycle riders.
Every person riding a bicycle or motorized bicycle upon a street or highway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle as provided by chapter 304, RSMo, except as to special regulations in sections 307.180 to 307.193 and except as to those provisions of chapter 304, RSMo, which by their nature can have no application.

307.190. Riding to right, required for bicycles and motorized bicycles.
Every person operating a bicycle or motorized bicycle at less than the posted speed or slower than the flow of traffic upon a street or highway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as safe, exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction, except when making a left turn, when avoiding hazardous conditions, when the lane is too narrow to share with another vehicle or when on a one-way street. Bicyclists may ride abreast when not impeding other vehicles.

 

307.191. Shoulder riding, allowed but not required for bicyclist operators

  1. A person operating a bicycle at less than the posted speed or slower than the flow of traffic upon a street or highway may operate as described in section 307.190, or may operate on the shoulder adjacent to the roadway.
  2. A bicycle operated on a roadway, or the shoulder adjacent to a roadway, shall be operated in the same direction as vehicles are required to be driven upon the roadway.
  3. For purposes of this section and section 307.190, "roadway", means that portion of a street or highway ordinarily used for vehicular travel, exclusive of the berm or shoulder.

 

Practicable vs Safe: Historical vs modern views of the "stay right" traffic laws

Note that the wording "ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable" that occurs in so many bicycle laws in states, counties, and cities across the U.S. was never intended to require bicyclists to ride as near the right-hand margin of the road as humanly possible.

Instead, this language was used in laws for all types of vehicles in early law.  In the early 1900s, when these laws were written, roads were narrow and rough, especially near the edges.  In actual practice, the phrase "as far right as practicable" generally meant that vehicles drove down the center of the road until they met another vehicle.  Yes, it would have been possible for motorists to drive continuously with one wheel in the ditch, always keeping to the right half of the road, but it was more practicable to use the smooth part of the road when available and slow down and move road as needed.

The point is: "as far right as practicable" did not by any means mean to travel as far to the right as humanly possible at all times.  Instead, it incorporated a sense of human judgement into the equation, allowing discretion as to how far right to travel given road conditions, condition of the edge of the road, speed, and traffic conditions. 

The sense was to require road users to give way to the right for oncoming traffic, and that slower traffic should keep right to allow faster traffic to pass when safe.

Unfortunately, far too many motorists, law enforcement officers, and judges now wrongly interpret "as far right as practicable" to mean, instead, "as far right as humanly possible."

That is why we worked with Missouri legislators in the mid 1990s to update the Missouri bicycle law to require bicyclists to ride "as far right as safe." 

"As far right as safe" was designed to incorporate that original idea of common sense and safety into the law.  People who bicycle--and all road users--should never be required to do anything that is unsafe.  Crowding the edge of the road is unsafe.  Riding in the gutter is unsafe.  Riding too close to parked cars is unsafe.  Riding on the far RH edge of a lane that encourages motorists to pass within a too narrow lane at unsafe speeds is unsafe.  Riding on a garbage-strewn shoulder is unsafe.

Missouri law does not require bicyclist to do any of those things--because they are ALL unsafe.

The recommended language above takes this concept a step further, by affirmatively stating the places where bicyclists are permitted to ride on the road:

  • In the center of the right lane of travel, or
  • To the right side of the roadway, or
  • In the shoulder adjacent to the roadway

All of these lane positions are safe and appropriate for bicyclists to use under certain circumstances and road conditions.  In many situations, one or the other is more appropriate.  For example, if the shoulder is filled with gravel, potholes, and garbage, it will likelyi be unsafe. In almost all circumstances, the center of the right lane of travel is safe and appropriate (this is the primary position taught by bicycle education classes across the U.S.).  In some circumstances riding on the right side of the road way (to he right of the travel lane but outside of the shoulder) maybe safe and appropriate.

The point of this law is that all of these possibilities are allowed under law, and it is given to the bicyclist to choose any of them in any given circumstance.  Any of the three possibilities is considered to be legal.  Which is best or most appropriate for a given situation is left to the judgement of the person who is bicycling--as, in the end, it must be.

 

Further discussion of these issues:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Share this: