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Lance sent in the following question:

“I’ve been okay with traffic protocol except for this one thing. In the instance of a red light and there are several cars in front and in back of me, is it proper procedure to stop behind the car that’s in front of me as any other car would do or do cyclists have the right to pass everyone like a motorcycle and come to a stop right at the crosswalk?

I’ve been stopping behind cars so they don’t get p*ssed at me but I’m nowhere close to sure that it’s the right thing to do.?

Lance, first of all, it is NOT ok for motorcyclists to pass everyone on the right to get a favorable spot at the front of the line. This is a version of “lane splitting?, which is commonly practiced by motorcyclists (and a good number of bike commuters), but is absolutely illegal in most jurisdictions.

A technique for solving this traffic protocol riddle that I have found useful is to sneak up on the right until you are in the second or third position in line…and stop between cars rather than alongside one of the cars. Then, when the light turns green, you let the first and/or second car do their thing while you get up to speed, get clipped in to your pedals, etc. Oftentimes, that first or second car will make an unannounced right turn, so by hanging back for the first few seconds, you avoid the dreaded “right hook“. Once I’m rolling at speed, I try to hog the lane a bit (getting out into the middle of the lane and standing up) to prevent other motorists from trying to hook a right (or a left) in front of me until I am clear of the intersection.

I mention “sneaking up? on the right side of cars because I have found that doing it blatantly really pisses motorists off. If you do it slowly and steadily (being careful to avoid rearview mirrors and the like), you are less likely to step on any toes.

Regardless, there are a few considerations to keep in mind when passing on the right, particularly if there are any driveways or parking-lot entrances between you and the light. If there’s any spot where a car could conceivably turn right (into your path), be extremely cautious or forgo right-hand passing altogether. Better safe than sorry, I always say! Also, gauge the amount of room you have on the right — if you’re passing and you run out of room between the cars and the curb, you can get screwed pretty quickly. Finally, be wary of the rare but extremely painful right-hand “door zone? — someone suddenly getting out on the right-hand side and throwing their door open to step out onto the sidewalk will ruin your day in a heartbeat!

Blind adherence to motorist laws is as dangerous as being a total scofflaw. Please, use common sense and judgement for your own safety. If breaking a motorist law turns out to be safer for you, by all means DO SO!

Here are some collision avoidance tips from the folks at Bicyclesafe.com. Pay particular attention to collision types 3, 4 and 5.

And, since we here at bikecommuters.com are not lawyers, it is up to you, our readers, to check all applicable local laws for your situation. In some municipalities, passing on the right will get you a pricey ticket (or worse). Be safe, be smart and be aware!

Have a cycling-related question? Just Ask Jack! Click on the link in the right-hand column to send me your questions.