When Can a Cyclist Take the Lane?


By Russ Hymas and Ken Christensen —

During a recent group ride, a motorist started honking and yelling at us because we were riding in the road. We had to ride in the road, but we were going slower than traffic. When is it allowable for a cyclist to “take the lane,” and when is it not? – Rick S., Highland, UT

“Take the lane” is a common phrase among cyclists. It’s the catch-all term that explains how cyclists are legally allowed to move away from the far right side of the road and use the lane.

Bikes may use the full lane, when necessary. Photo by Dave Iltis.

In Utah, cyclists riding slower than the flow of traffic must ride as close to the right-hand edge of the roadway as practicable. But, there are some exceptions to this rule. Cyclists are allowed to (and should for our personal safety) “take the lane” and impede traffic only in the following circumstances:

  • When overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle
  • When preparing for a left turn
  • Riding straight through an intersection just to the left of vehicles turning right
  • Where a lane is too narrow to share safely with another vehicle
  • To avoid any condition that makes it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge

Every cyclist has the legal right and responsibility to make reasonable use of the roadway to protect their own safety. You may take as much of the lane as is practical to create a safe space around yourself and leave no doubt that the motorist does not have enough room to share the lane with you.

Cyclists riding single file, as near to the right as practicable. Photo by Dave Iltis.

We assume you were using the lane for one of the reasons listed above. In that case, the motorist had no basis for honking and becoming hostile with you. However, we’ve all seen cyclists spill out into the lane on group rides. Cycling is a sport that gives us enormous opportunity to spend time with friends. We feel safer on group rides and are more visible to motorists. We love the camaraderie, the short strong pulls at the front of a pace line, and the easy drifting out as a peloton. You can ride two abreast in Utah, as long as you do not impede traffic. If your group cannot fit on the shoulder of the roadway, then you must ride single file, and cannot “take the lane” unless you are in one of the five situations listed above.

Taking the lane is necessary at times, but causes problems because drivers think you’re being actively hostile. When necessary, give proper notice, take the lane, and then return to the right-hand edge of the roadway as quickly as possible. As cyclists, we can legally take the lane, but that doesn’t mean we can keep it.

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.

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