Illegal to pass cars while on the shoulder?

We are not providing legal advice. This is our interpretation of Michigan state law. UPDATED August 8, 2017

We’ve previously provided many situations where the rules of the road should be ignored due to their impracticality or unreasonableness. The bottom line is a cyclist’s safety is more important than strictly following the letter of the law.

Here’s another justification for those who ride on the shoulder.

Let’s start with these key definitions under Michigan’s state law.

  1. Bicycles are not vehicles since they are “exclusively moved by human power.”
  2. Roadway means that portion of a highway improved, designed, or ordinarily used for vehicular travel.”
  3. Shoulder means that portion of the highway contiguous to the roadway generally extending the contour of the roadway, not designed for vehicular travel”

So, this means shoulders are not part of the roadway. This was reaffirmed in Grimes vs. MDOT (2006).

A shoulder may be capable of supporting some form of vehicular traffic, but it is not a travel lane and it is not “designed for vehicular travel.”

State law does not define “bike lanes”, however since bicycles are not vehicles, bike lanes are not designed for vehicular travel. Therefore bike lanes are not part of the roadway. Neither are parking lanes for that matter.

Riding on shoulders

State law does prohibit vehicles passing other vehicles while on the shoulder.

The driver of a vehicle shall not overtake and pass another vehicle upon the right by driving off the pavement or main-traveled portion of the roadway.

State law also states that bicyclists upon the roadway  have “all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle.” When you ride on the road shoulder, you’re not on the roadway and are not required to follow the same laws as vehicle operators.

So go ahead and pass on the shoulder.

 

Do bicyclists have to ride on the shoulders?

Actually, they don’t. The law says:

A person operating a bicycle upon a highway or street at less than the existing speed of traffic shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway.

The shoulder is not part of the roadway. Bicyclists are not required to ride in bike lanes or parking lanes either.


http://legislature.mi.gov/doc.aspx?mcl-257-59a

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3 Responses to “Illegal to pass cars while on the shoulder?”

  1. Dave Says:

    It seems there is a gap in the actual written laws provided here on the site:

    In the definition of “vehicle” pertaining to bicycles, it says:

    1.) “‘Vehicle means every device in, upon, or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway, except devices exclusively moved by human power…”

    Given that, all vehicles are allowed in the roadway, with “human powered devices”, bicycles included, being one of the exceptions and not allowed.

    2.) “’Roadway’” means that portion of a highway improved, designed, or ordinarily used for vehicular travel…”

    This here is a little grey with the language. It says “ordinarily”, but does not make any explicit reference to what else may use the roadway.

    3.) Implied without explicit rights stated–Finally, this here says that if someone is operating a bicycle in on the highway (which the roadway is part of, to be technical), and then the rules bicycle riders should when riding in the highway follow, which I did
    not include.

    “A person operating a bicycle upon a highway or street at less than the existing speed of traffic shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except as follows:”

    Maybe you left out some information or maybe the laws were just written in an incomplete way, but with only the information I saw that was posted, it would be likened to having house rules that say “Children may not candy”, but then within that same list of rules, providing rules on what type/how much of suckers they may eat, what kind/how much of chocolate they may eat, without actually explicitly stating “You may eat candy.”

    I thought bicycles were considered vehicles in Michigan. It seems to imply as much in the driver’s training manual in one brief section. There’s probably missing information but this just seems incomplete to me.

  2. Todd Scott Says:

    Dave,

    Yes, there is another section of law that wasn’t mentioned. MCL 257.657 states, “Each person riding a bicycle, electric personal assistive mobility device, or moped or operating a low-speed vehicle upon a roadway has all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this chapter, except as to special regulations in this article and except as to the provisions of this chapter which by their nature do not have application.”

    So, while bicycles are not vehicles, bicyclists have “all of the rights” of a driver of a vehicle.

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