In my last Legally Speaking column, we had a question from R.H. about riding two abreast while pacelining in Pennsylvania. In this column, we have a few more questions about pacelining. First up is a question from reader G.F., who writes from Wisconsin to ask:
Thanks for your recent article on riding two abreast in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. I ride with a club in Wisconsin and we have had several discussions on what is both safe and legal, in terms of riding etiquette. From your article about Pennsylvania and New Jersey I am projecting to our situation here in Wisconsin that when we are riding on roads with one lane of traffic in each direction we should be riding single file, even though I know it is legal to ride two abreast as long as you are not impeding traffic. Is this true? Are we riding illegally when we ride two abreast on country roads with only one lane of traffic in each direction?
As you may recall from the last column, in New Jersey it’s legal to ride two abreast, as long as you’re not “impeding traffic,” in which case you would have to ride single file. This differs from Pennsylvania, where you can ride two abreast, unless you’re traveling at less than the prevailing speed, in which case where you ride depends on how many lanes the road has. On a road with more than one lane in each direction, you may continue to ride two abreast, but must stay in the right lane; on a road with only one lane in each direction, you must ride as close to the right side of the road “as is practicable.”
Now let’s look at Wisconsin. In Wisconsin, it’s also legal to ride two abreast “if such operation does not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic.” In a previous column, “To impede or not to impede,” we saw that “normal and reasonable” means traffic that is traveling in the mainstream flow of traffic, and that is traveling at a reasonable speed—that is, traffic that is following the basic speed rule. In Wisconsin, the basic speed rule is that No person shall drive a vehicle at a speed greater than is reasonable or prudent under the conditions and having regard for the actual and potential hazards then existing. The speed of a vehicle shall be so controlled as may be necessary to avoid colliding with any object, person, vehicle or other conveyance on or entering the highway in compliance with legal requirements and using due care.
So, here’s the paceline rule for Wisconsin: If the mainstream flow of traffic is traveling in observance of the basic speed rule, your paceline must either be traveling at the same speed as the mainstream flow of traffic, or you must ride single file. If your paceline is not impeding “the normal and reasonable movement of traffic,” you may ride two abreast, and on a road with more than one lane in the direction you are traveling, you must ride within a single lane. At all times, whether you are riding two abreast, or single file, you must ride “as close as practicable to the right-hand edge or curb or the roadway.”
Next, B.R. writes from British Columbia to ask:
Thanks to you and your colleagues for your interesting articles about cycling and the law. Regarding the recent article on pacelining, one of the issues overlooked concerns the very nature of the paceline. In the case of a single paceline, when the lead rider pulls off and rotates to the back, he would, for the duration of his drift to the rear of the pack, be riding two-abreast. In one of the situations where single pacelining is required, how do you get him to the back of the pack? It is a little more difficult in the case where a double paceline is allowed. Normally, both leaders would pull off the front, one going left, the other right. But that would result in the pack being temporarily four-abreast (or three-abreast if you consider the rider on the right as being overtaken).
Normally, when you’re riding single file, the lead rider will just peel off, and rotate to the back of the paceline. Of course, as you point out, as the lead rider is rotating back, he (or she) is riding two abreast. If a paceline is rotating rapidly enough, there will always be one or more riders who are riding two abreast. But if you’re required to ride single file, you also have to consider how the lead rider will peel off, while still maintaining a single file. One clearly legal way to do it is to have the lead rider pull off to the right, stop, and wait for the paceline to pass, then pull in behind the paceline. But that just defeats the purpose of a paceline, doesn’t it?
So here’s a different way to do it that will probably pass the legal test, as long as you’re not rotating leaders so quickly that the paceline is perpetually two abreast. When the lead rider is ready to rotate, have her (or him) peel off to the right and rotate back, as the rest of the paceline passes her on her left. Do you see what’s happening there? The lead rider peels off, and is now riding slower than the paceline, and is being passed just as your paceline would pass a slower cyclist. It’s legal for the paceline to pass a slower cyclist, so as long as your paceline isn’t rotating lead riders so quickly that the paceline is perpetually two abreast, this technique should fit within what the law allows regarding both riding single file, and passing slower cyclists.
Now, what about when you’re riding a double paceline, and the law allows you to ride two abreast? How do you rotate the lead riders while staying within the law? If the lead riders both peel off, one to the left, and one to the right, the paceline is now four abreast, and that isn’t legal. The best way to ride a double paceline and stay within the law is to ride a variation called a rotating paceline. One of the pacelines will be riding at a faster rate than the other paceline. The lead rider of the faster paceline peels off to become the lead rider of the slower paceline, and the tail rider of the slower paceline rotates into the tail of the faster paceline. The effect is of a constantly rotating double paceline, and would be completely within what the law allows.
Next, D.R. writes from California with a similar question:
I always enjoy reading your columns, and look forward to reading your book when it comes out. Soon, I hope? Anyway, thanks for your recent column explaining the legalities of pacelining. It got me to thinking about other pacelining situations. Have you ever addressed what happens when you have a group ride positioned at 3 and even 4 abreast, when the lead riders pull off and drift back? Related to this, what happens when you have a paceline, even a single paceline, and the ‘tail’ of the group covers the entire lane. Are these situations legal?
Thanks D.R.! My new book Bicycling& The Law has been keeping me very busy, but you will hopefully be pleased to know that it will be coming out very soon. In the first situation, any group ride with riders three or four abreast would be riding in violation of the law that allows cyclists to ride “no more than two abreast.” There’s just no way around that limitation, at least on a training ride. In some states, if you’re riding in a race you won’t be limited to riding two abreast, but a training ride doesn’t qualify as a race under the law, and if you did claim that you were “racing” in order to avoid a ticket for riding more than two abreast, you could be ticketed for racing instead—because that’s against the law in many states too, unless it’s a permitted event.
In the second situation, where you have a paceline and the “tail” of the group covers the entire lane, the legality of the paceline would depend upon the circumstances and state. Generally, if the paceline is traveling at the same speed as other traffic, the paceline may take the lane, and if the tail is fanning out to cover the entire lane, that will not be against the law. Of course, this may vary, depending upon state law. If the paceline is not traveling at the same speed as other traffic, the paceline must ride as close to the right as practicable, and in some states, must ride single file. In that situation—where the paceline is not traveling at the same speed as other traffic—riders in the tail who fan out would be in violation of the “close as practicable” rule.
Finally, we have a letter from B.F. in North Carolina, reminding us that we need to be familiar with all of the laws along our routes:
As always thanks for a well written article. An additional note, there can be local or township ordinances requiring single file riding. The township of Biltmore Forest here in the Asheville area has such. There are signs posted stating the ordinance at the road entrances to the township. Of course this is a ritzy fancy pants almost gated city, so they can do what they want. I am guessing if a local law supersedes the state law, it must be posted?
Asheville, North Carolina
Generally, states, including North Carolina, delegate some limited authority to regulate traffic to local authorities, as long as the local regulation is within what the state allows. Local laws never supersede state laws, however; they must always be consistent with what state law allows.
In North Carolina, there is no law on riding two abreast. So does that mean that riding two abreast is legal in North Carolina? It’s not entirely clear. There’s no law requiring you to ride single file, but there’s also no law allowing you to ride two abreast. There is a law allowing motorcycles to ride two abreast. Does that mean that, because the legislature has specifically allowed motorcycles to ride two abreast, but hasn’t specifically allowed bicycles to ride two abreast, that you can’t ride two abreast?
I don’t think so. First, the law doesn’t prohibit riding two abreast. Second, in North Carolina, bicycles shall be deemed vehicles and every rider of a bicycle upon a highway shall be subject to the provisions of this Chapter applicable to the driver of a vehicle except those which by their nature can have no application. Because the law specifically allows motorcycles to ride two abreast, a good argument could be made that, being similar to motorcycles in their ability to share a lane, bicycles are also subject to that provision. Thus, although the law isn’t exactly clear on whether or not you can ride two abreast, I believe you can.
Now, what about those signs at the entrance to the Biltmore Forest? In North Carolina, local governments may by ordinance prohibit, regulate, divert, control, and limit pedestrian or vehicular traffic upon the public streets, sidewalks, alleys, and bridges of the city. However, local governments have no power or authority to enact or enforce any rules or regulations contrary to the provisions of [the vehicle code]. Signs shall be erected giving notices of the special limits and regulations…So, as is the case in other states, in North Carolina local governments may regulate traffic consistent what state law allows, and they must give notice of “special limits and regulations” by posting signs.
Now let’s go back to that question of whether you can ride two abreast in North Carolina. The law doesn’t say you can ride two abreast, nor does it say you can’t ride two abreast, and although the question is somewhat unclear, I believe you can ride two abreast in North Carolina…Until you arrive at the Town of Biltmore Forest, that is, where signs have been erected declaring that riding two abreast is unlawful in Biltmore Forest. Because a local ordinance outlawing riding two abreast is not in conflict with North Carolina law—remember, there’s no state law that says you can ride two abreast—the ordinance would be consistent with state law. However, although it’s a misdemeanor—a criminal offense, so be careful—to violate a Biltmore Forest traffic ordinance, I can’t find anything in the Biltmore Forest Code of Ordinances (available on the Town of Biltmore Forest website) that prohibits riding two abreast. Now the online ordinances are four years old, so maybe the two abreast ordinance was passed after 2003, but you might want to check the town ordinances against the signs to see if riding two abreast really is against the law in Biltmore Forest.
(Research and drafting provided by Rick Bernardi-law student- Lewis and Clark)
Now read the fine print:
Bob Mionske is a former competitive cyclist who represented the U.S. at the 1988 Olympic games (where he finished fourth in the road race), the 1992 Olympics, as well as winning the 1990 national championship road race. After retiring from racing in 1993, he coached the Saturn Professional Cycling team for one year before heading off to law school. Mionske’s practice is now split between personal-injury work, representing professional athletes as an agent and other legal issues facing endurance athletes (traffic violations, contract, criminal charges, intellectual property, etc). If you have a cycling-related legal question, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org Bob will answer as many of these questions privately as he can. He will also select a few questions each week to answer in this column. General bicycle-accident advice can be found at www.bicyclelaw.com.
The information provided in the “Legally Speaking” column is not legal advice. The information provided on this public web site is provided solely for the general interest of the visitors to this web site. The information contained in the column applies to general principles of American jurisprudence and may not reflect current legal developments or statutory changes in the various jurisdictions and therefore should not be relied upon or interpreted as legal advice. Understand that reading the information contained in this column does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Bob Mionske. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained in the web site without first seeking the advice of legal counsel.