At first blush, it seems silly to suggest a car can’t pass a vehicle, so maybe a better question is how can a bike legally pass a car? California law says a bicycle is considered a vehicle and a cyclist has all the rights and responsibilities as the driver of a motor vehicle (CVC 21208).
So this means that a bike can ride with the cars in traffic, and a car can’t just pass another car in the same lane, there isn’t enough room, and the passing car would violate the other car’s right-of-way. But bikes can slide alongside a car with no problem. But is it legal?
Passing on the Left
In a way, it seems natural to pass on the left, and when cyclists are among pedestrians, the rule is to pass on the left and make a noise to let them know you’re there. But what about when riding in the same lane as the cars?
California law allows a vehicle to ride in a lane the same as a car, and it’s legal for a car to pass another on the left by crossing the centerline and then get back after it safe to do so. A cyclist is also allowed to do that, and can usually accomplish that without crossing the centerline. The law requires three feet between cars and bikes when they pass, so if there is enough room, then passing on the left is ok.
Passing on the Right
Another California law states that cyclists that can’t keep up with traffic need to either ride in a bike lane if it exists on that street or ride on the right-side of the far-right lane. This puts slower cyclists on the right side of the right lane sharing the same lane. So does it make sense then that if the car slows down, the cyclist should slow down because they can’t pass the car on the right?
In fact, under CVC Section 21754, the law states that “the driver of a vehicle may overtake and pass to the right of another vehicle only…upon a highway with unobstructed pavement of sufficient width for two or more lines of moving vehicles in the direction of travel.”
Two “vehicles”? Does that mean two cars? No, remember a bicycle is a vehicle under California vehicle code. So the law actually allows a cyclist to pass on the right—if there is enough room.
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