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It's legal to pass bicyclists by drifting across center line

I have a question concerning bicyclists on Hillcrest Road between Oxford Place and East McAndrews Road. Occasionally as I drive up that narrow, winding road, I come up behind a bicyclist in the right lane pumping up the hill at about 3 to 5 mph. I now have two choices. I can stay in my lane and follow the bicyclist up the road at 3 to 5 mph or I can cross the double line and pass the bicycle. Neither one seems to be a very safe option. What is your recommendation?

— Edmund C., Medford

Your question raises a couple of interesting points, Edmund. First of all, a bicycle is considered a vehicle in Oregon, and as such is entitled to be using the travel lane of the roadway. So there's no doubt that the bicyclist is riding up Hillcrest legally. Second, due to the double yellow lines, are you stuck behind him? Here's the legal answer, which is found in ORS 811.420, regarding passing in no-passing zones: It states you cannot pass where appropriate signs or markings are posted on the roadway. However, that same little statute has an exception in it. The exception states that a pass can be made "when an obstruction or condition exists making it necessary to drive to the left of the center of the roadway provided that a driver doing so shall yield the right of way to all vehicles traveling in the proper direction upon the unobstructed portion of the roadway within a distance that would constitute an immediate hazard."

In this case, I might not consider the bicycle to be an obstruction, because it is legally there, though I think you have a legal basis to pass if you choose.

But your question implies passing might not be safe.

In my humble opinion, this is a judgment call for every driver based upon the circumstances. If you're uncomfortable passing, then follow. If you've got a reasonably peppy car, then pass if you feel you can do so safely. I know there isn't much room for passing, because I used to live up there. But it takes just an instant to pass a bicycle going that slow, and you don't need to be all the way into the other lane. Just give the bicyclist a safe distance when passing.

Dace Cochran is a patrol sergeant with the Jackson County Sheriff's Department. Have a question for him? Write to Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501, or e-mail cochradc@jacksoncounty.org.