Far to the right?

Are far-to-the-right laws specific to bicycles discriminatory? How do they affect your right as a cyclist to use the road?

BMUFL New York State: No Bikes May Use Full Lane signs

Every U.S. state has a “keep right” for vehicles moving slower than the “normal” speed of traffic. 46 states and the District of Columbia also have a far-to-the-right (FTR) law that applies specifically to those on bicycles. Because this law is unique in addressing a very specific class of road users with very subjective requirements (what does “as close as practicable” really mean? And who decides how practicable or safe the edge of the road is?), some cyclist advocates view this as discriminatory. The history of this law seems to indicate that it was written to benefit faster vehicle operators while hindering the operating of bicycles on the roadway.

Several states provide for several exemptions from far-right operation — to bypass obstructions, for example — but even here in California with a very liberal set of exceptions, we have cyclists who are routinely ticketed in some jurisdictions even when they ride in a way that the law very clearly indicates is legal. San Diego Sheriff deputies, for example, say that cyclists who “take the lane” while cycling over shared lane markings in the city of Solana Beach are breaking the law. San Diego has a county court commissioner, Larry Jones, who is openly hostile to cyclists in his courtroom and completely ignores very basic far-to-the-right exceptions in our far-to-the-right law.

Some advocates believe California’s FTR law, CVC 21202, give some law enforcement agencies and traffic court judges opportunity to harass cyclists, in spite of the many exceptions. They feel repealing CVC 21202 would weaken the toolbox available to police who are hostile to cyclists.

Keri Caffrey goes into detail on why she believes FTR should be repealed.


  1. The whole concept of “sharing” seems to be too confusing for people. Shared lane markings are sometimes used on wide, “shareable”, lanes. But they can also be used on lanes where there position is intended to encourage “taking the lane.”

  2. I believe this law and cyclist adherence to it is the highest cause of cyclist injuries, accidents, and deaths. By riding all the way to the right you basically guarantee:

    1. That people in traffic (and turning into traffic) wont see you,
    2. That you will likely get “doored,” and
    3. That any unforeseen circumstance which requires immediately agility will have you either under a car (riding too close next to you because you’re so far to the right) or running into a parked car.

    This law only made to increase efficiency of motor vehicles (and don’t get me started on buses), not for safety, nor equity.

    To say I really dislike it is an understatement. I never adhere to it, and it keeps me much safer.

  3. Here in NYS and NYC we can take the lane. In group riding it is OK, but woe to the lone cyclist who tries it.

  4. In Los Alamos County, NM, a cyclist can legally take the lane if the lane is too narrow to share side by side. Coupled with the county’s five foot overtaking ordinance, that defines most traffic lanes in the county as too narrow to share. Its not well understood, either by the cops or the citizenry. Cyclists included.

  5. Repealing CVC 21202 is the stupidest bicycle-advocacy position i’ve heard of. It’s the reason that cyclists may ride in the lane at all. From Wikipedia’s bike law in CA page:
    “Cyclists are allowed but never required to ride on the shoulder. CVC 530 defines the “roadway” as “that portion of a highway improved, designed, or ordinarily used for vehicular travel”. The on-road position of cyclists is narrowed by CVC 21202, which requires riding “as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway” except in certain circumstances.”
    section (a)(3) states that cyclists do not have to ride all the way to the right “When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions (..) that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge”, as long as it is pursuant to CVC 21656, which requires vehicles which are moving slow enough that they are causing a line of vehicles to form behind them to use the next available turnout to let the line of vehicles pass them. I don’t think there will ever be a line of 5 or more motor vehicles stuck behind a bicycle.

    scenario #1: riding side by side within the same lane when there are no cars parked next to the curb.
    Inside of the parentheses, one of the conditions listed as being a condition which would “make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge” is a substandard width lane. The very next sentence states, “For purposes of this section, a “substandard width lane” is a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.”
    So a motorist and a cyclist may not ride side by side in a lane so narrow that is unsafe (presumably for the cyclist) to be “practicable”, or as that word is generally defined, “able to be done or put into practice successfully”. In this case, an accident (or most any incident) resulting from riding side by side in the same lane would probably be considered unsuccessfully operating a vehicle upon the road, and thus unsafe, and the cyclist would no longer have to ride as close to the curb or edge of the roadway.

    scenario #2: riding in a lane that is next to a row of parked cars
    Inside of the parentheses, one of the other conditions listed as being a condition which would “make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge” is includes, but is “not limited to, fixed or moving objects”. Since there are cars parked next to the curb, the cyclist is not able to right close to the curb, and must ride in the lane. Furthermore, since parked cars will have or have had a driver inside at some point, the door may spring open, with or without visual cues. On account of this, it is unsafe to ride close to any row parked cars due to the fact the cyclist may be unexpectedly doored, which can lead to serious injuries or death. To avoid this unsafe scenario, the cyclist must have the right to ride closer to the center of a lane (claim the lane), to have increased reaction time in case of an inattentive driver opening the door. To be clear, any row of parked cars represents a scenario where it is “unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge” because of the danger of being doored. Heck, riding close to parked cars may, in this sense, may make the cyclist partially liable if a dooring does occur, for operating a vehicle on the roadway in a potentially unsafe manner.

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