By Russ Hymas and Ken Christensen
Did you know that until recently, it was illegal under Utah law for a cyclist to ride on the shoulder past stopped cars in order to wait at the front of an intersection for a red traffic signal to turn green?
That’s right, for many years, Utah Code 41-6a-705(3) simply stated that “the operator of a vehicle may not overtake and pass another vehicle if the movement is made by driving off the roadway.” As most cyclists know, bikes are considered “vehicles” under the law. But few were aware that Utah’s definition of a “roadway” does not include the shoulder. So, cyclists were breaking the law every time they passed a car while riding on the right side of a solid white line.
At first glance, this may not seem like an important change to the law. After all, for many years it had been a common practice among cyclists, and police officers were unlikely to ever issue a citation for “passing on the right.” However, as bicycle accident attorneys, we noticed a trend with several auto insurance companies in these circumstances. The insurance companies refused to accept liability when, for example, a motorist turned left into a parking lot through a gap of stopped cars and hit a cyclist who was riding down the shoulder. They would quote the law above and deny payment for any of the cyclist’s medical expenses or bike damages, arguing that both the driver and the cyclist were in violation of Utah laws and were equally at fault.
Obviously, this led to unfair results, and the law needed to be changed. Before the 2013 legislative session, we drafted a bill and presented it to some of our local legislators, asking them to sponsor the bill and modify the law. They agreed to run the legislation. The bill passed unanimously through both the House and the Senate, and was signed into law by Governor Herbert. The Utah Code now allows persons operating bicycles to utilize the shoulder to pass on the right, assuming it can be done “with safety.”
This experience was a good reminder that there are several necessary exceptions to the general rule that bicycles are subject to the same rights and responsibilities as any other “vehicle” on the road. Some of these exceptions have been incorporated into law; others have not. Each year, our firm – along with the editors at Cycling Utah and several other cycling advocacy groups – works with the legislature to make needed changes to the Utah Code.
Bills for the upcoming legislative session are already being drafted. If you are aware of any law that needs to be changed to help protect cyclists on Utah’s roadways, please reach out to us on our Facebook page or at UtahBicycleLawyers.com.
Ken Christensen and Russ Hymas are avid cyclists and Utah attorneys at UtahBicycleLawyers.com. Their legal practice is devoted to helping cyclists injured in collisions with motor vehicles. They are authors of the Utah Bicycle Accident Handbook and are nationally recognized legal experts on cycling laws and safety.