Cyclists in bike lanes have priority over cars

A few months ago while driving in my own car I witnessed two bicyclists crash into each other in downtown Ashland while trying to avoid a turning car. The accident could have been a lot worse.

Two bicyclists traveling together were in the bike lane adjacent to Lithia Way, the two-lane, one-way street running through downtown. A car driving in the right lane made a quick right-hand turn down First Street.

The first bicyclist used his brakes just in time to avoid the turning car, and the second bicyclist then crashed into him, sending both to the ground.

While nobody seemed seriously injured, and the car was untouched, it made me wonder — would the car or the bicycle be at fault had this accident been more serious?

— Christina B., Ashland

As it turns out, Christina, this dangerous scenario happens fairly often, according to Portland lawyer Ray Thomas.

Thomas, a Portland bike lawyer who wrote "Pedal Power: A Legal Guide for Oregon Bicyclists," calls this move the "right hook."

Thomas said that according to Oregon law, cyclists in bicycle lanes have the right-of-way over motorized traffic.

Drivers must yield to bicyclists in the scenario you described, Christina, and it sounds as though the driver in this instance could have been charged with a Class C traffic violation, resulting in a maximum fine of $360.

Motor vehicles are allowed to drive into a bicycle lane to make a right-hand turn, but only if they first yield to any bicyclists in the lane.

Thomas said that because bicycle travel and bicycle lanes have evolved over the years, many drivers didn't learn rules about bike lanes when taking driver training classes.

A free copy of Thomas' legal guide can be downloaded at

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