Here’s what Missouri law states (307.190):
Every person operating a bicycle or motorized bicycle at less than the posted speed or slower than the flow of traffic upon a street or highway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as safe, exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction, except when making a left turn, when avoiding hazardous conditions, when the lane is too narrow to share with another vehicle, or when on a one-way street. Bicyclists may ride abreast when not impeding other vehicles.
Most states have similar laws known as Far to the Right (FTR) laws. The wording is quite often different state to state. For example, some states require bicyclists to ride as far right as “practicable” — whateverthehell that means. Although the word “safe” in Missouri law isn’t much better. What’s safe? Who gets to decide?
I drive my bicycle with the understanding that I am the one who gets to define “safe” because I am the one responsible for my own safety. What I think is safe is taking the lane, i.e. generally defaulting to a center to center-right position well in command of the lane and within the sight-line of other vehicle drivers in most traffic situations. (Nuance and detail will have to wait for the comments section.)
Is this a good law? Does it encourage safe bicycling?
No and no. Bob Shanteau has published an excellent history of the concept of traffic lanes and the role of FTR laws at I Am Traffic. It is well worth your time to learn how bicyclists came to be pushed to the edge of the road and what the consequences are. For example, riding far to the right increases your chances of these types of crashes:
- Right hooks
- Left crosses
- Driveway and intersection pull-outs
- Sideswipes and rear ends during overtaking maneuvers
- Door zone crashes
- Road edge hazards
This pushing to the edge has become so normal in our culture that far too many bicycle advocates actually believe edge riding is safe and preferred.
I have the opportunity to talk with lots of bicyclists. And I hear all kinds of tales about how awful it is to ride a bicycle in Springfield and how nasty and stupid motorists are here.
Whenever I hear these stories I ask about driving habits. And it is always the same: The people who have bad experiences on Springfield streets and with Springfield motorists are edge riders. I never hear the same stories from people who know how/when/where to take the lane. I rarely experience anything other than a safe and cooperative environment on the streets of Springfield.
As I have said a gazillion times: If riding a bicycle for basic transportation were dangerous or difficult, I wouldn’t be doing it.