An Unsolicited Favor

John Allen

I am riding on a two-lane road. There is no oncoming traffic.  I am leaving room for motorists to pass -- in other words, “releasing.” This road has a few driveways. one or two cars might pull into a driveway, per day: almost all traffic continues straight through. But now a car pulls ahead of me and stops, just short of a driveway on the right.

Almost every time this happens, the driver thinks that allowing me to pass on the right does me a favor.

Take the bait and pass on the right?

The everyday rules of the road and the traffic law (MGL Ch. 89 § 2 and 90 § 14, in case you care to look) are clear: the driver should slow and follow me for the few seconds it takes me to get past the driveway, merge to the right edge of the road, and then turn right.

I want to encourage drivers to do the right thing. How do I handle this?

I have to admit, I haven’t always handled this well. Bicycling gets me into “the zone” –, a so-called flow experience, living entirely in the present. That is one of its joys for me. I use lane position and hand signals to control my space when necessary, and release when appropriate. With my forward view and a rear-view mirror, I have situational awareness of other road users and can interact smoothly with them as long as they are predictable. But when a driver stops unexpectedly, my flow experience stops too.

If the driver would only slow to follow me for a couple of seconds, I could pass the driveway and the driver could than turn right. This is the way things are supposed to work. It actually takes less time. Traffic is a dance of large objects with limited maneuverability. Rules of the road make for smooth and cooperative interaction, as long as everyone is obeying them.

This driver didn’t signal the turn either. I would have noticed that in my mirror. If the driver had signaled, I would have merged to the left, or made the “don’t pass” signal: arm outstretched, palm facing to the rear.

But when this strategy fails, what do I do?

When the driver pulls up just ahead of me and stops, I also stop. (I have seen bicyclists shoot through on the right. Don’t – a misunderstanding could be injurious.)

I can pass on the left if there is no oncoming traffic, and that sends the lesson: “I don’t pass on the right.” Sometimes I have to back up to do this, because the car is next to me. Best avoid a conversation with the driver, and that is where I have failed at times. Drivers can get offended that you don’t take their nice favor. And people drive with the windows closed except on the few blessed New England days when the air is neither too hot nor too cold. And often then too.

So, to sum up, you face an uncertain situation where almost almost all traffic is going straight through and you want to let it pass, but there is a driveway on the right. The best I can say is to have a mirror, use it, check it, and forestall this situation when you see it about to happen. Use lane control and the “do not pass” signal. When it happens anyway, stop, don’t say anything and if the driver stays stopped, pass on the left with a friendly wave. Better only to confuse the driver than to try to start a conversation!




Excellent advice, John, on the unsolicited favor. Thank you! It's great to have read a short piece like this so the situation is implanted somewhere in those brain synapses, ready to come to the fore when needed :-).