The far to right (FTR) rule describes the mandate that a bicycle operator ride as far to the right as practicable on the roadway. This language appears, in one form or another, in the transportation code of just about every state. It is also the most misunderstood and misquoted statutory snippet.
a person operating a bicycle on a roadway who is moving slower than the other traffic on the roadway shall ride as near as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway…
By far the most important term in this passage is also the most misinterpreted. Almost without exception, the word practicable is misrepresented, in conversation and print, as meaning possible. This fact has always been puzzling. These terms are not synonymous.
Practicability is a concept permitting the consideration of safety and efficacy when determining alignment. It allows one to ride further to the left if there are any of a number of hazards or potential hazards which would present the potential for unpredictable, unsafe or erratic operation. Examples include collected debris, standing water, deterioration or erosion of the road surface, uneven pavement, et cetera.
The misinterpretation of practicable as meaning possible is, perhaps, the most egregious mistake made by cyclist and motorist alike. Law enforcement is guilty of the same. It is this very misunderstanding which leads annually to crashes like the one last week in Austin, another in early June in Dallas, and many others.
A serious mistake often exhibited when citing this passage of law is neglecting to consider the exceptions. The following exclusionary criteria exist in the Texas statute with respect to the FTR rule governing bicycle operation.
(1) the person is passing another vehicle moving in the same direction;
(2) the person is preparing to turn left at an intersection or onto a private road or driveway;
(3) a condition on or of the roadway, including a fixed or moving object, parked or moving vehicle, pedestrian, animal, or surface hazard prevents the person from safely riding next to the right curb or edge of the roadway; or
(4) the person is operating a bicycle in an outside lane that is:
(A) less than 14 feet in width and does not have a designated bicycle lane adjacent to that lane; or
(B) too narrow for a bicycle and a motor vehicle to safely travel side by side.
Many of these are obvious and, frankly, redundant. Compare exceptions one through three to section §545.051 of the transportation code covering general vehicular operation.
DRIVING ON RIGHT SIDE OF ROADWAY. (a) An operator on a roadway of sufficient width shall drive on the right half of the roadway, unless:
(1) the operator is passing another vehicle;
(2) an obstruction necessitates moving the vehicle left of the center of the roadway and the operator yields the right-of-way to a vehicle that:
(A) is moving in the proper direction on the unobstructed portion of the roadway; and
(B) is an immediate hazard;
(3) the operator is on a roadway divided into three marked lanes for traffic; or
(4) the operator is on a roadway restricted to one-way traffic.
(b) An operator of a vehicle on a roadway moving more slowly than the normal speed of other vehicles at the time and place under the existing conditions shall drive in the right-hand lane available for vehicles, or as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway, unless the operator is:
(1) passing another vehicle; or
(2) preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.
The wording is almost identical: §551.103(a)(1) is nearly verbatim with §545.051(b)(1); likewise §551.103(a)(2) is quite similar to §545.051(b)(2); and §551.103(a)(3) is an aggregate of sorts for §545.051(a)(2). Revisiting the redundancy represented by SB488, these statements largely reiterate existing language applicable to general vehicle operation as it pertains specifically to bicycle operation. Given that a bicycle is a legally recognized vehicle in Texas, one is prompted to question why lawmakers felt the need to single out cyclists for specific reiteration. It constitutes a compelling reason for the Texas Bicycle Coalition to focus their efforts on repeal of the FTR rule during future legislative efforts, rather than their seemingly persistent endeavors to augment redundancy.
Unique to the statutes governing vehicular bicycle operation is 551.103(a)(4), “unless the person is operating a bicycle in an outside lane that is less than 14 feet in width and does not have a designated bicycle lane adjacent to that lane; or too narrow for a bicycle and a motor vehicle to safely travel side by side.” Understanding this language is critical to the discussion, because, by far, the majority of outside lanes in metropolitan settings are less than fourteen feet in width. This sub-section of the code specifically entitles a vehicular cyclist to claim full possession of the lane. So long as at least one additional inside lane exists — into which an overtaking motorist may safely move to pass — occupation of the entire lane does not constitute an impediment. Where only one lane exists in either direction and it is not wide enough to share, the cyclist — by virtue of physical and design limitations — effectively sets the prevailing speed. In circumstances such as the latter, it is at the discretion of the cyclist determine whether it is safe and efficacious to pull aside and allow motorists to pass. If more cyclists were able to comprehend these concepts and employ them on a regular basis, the entire argument pertaining to a perceived need for safe passing buffers would be moot.
As citizens, we are taught from a young age that ignorance of the law is no excuse. By the same token, ignorance of the meaning of the law is not an acceptable defense either. It behooves motorist and cyclist alike to become familiar with the terminology employed in legal discourse. It could save your life!