This is the sixth in a series of articles that will increase your familiarity with your rights as a bicyclist and what they mean when you’re on the road.
Reminder: Anything in the 300s is a Missouri Model Vehicle Code, meaning that cities can decide to adopt it or not and change it or not. Anything that has a 304 and 307 is a state statute. Anything with a 14- means it’s a Columbia City Ordinance. If you haven’t figured out by now that I’m not a lawyer and these are summaries of the laws, then I would be glad to represent you in your next legal case. My fee is reasonable but payable only in cash.
Now that we’ve established our legal right to be in a safe place in traffic via the Holy Grail of Bike Laws, it’s time to move on to Overtaking, Harassment, and Bad Conduct. As promised, I’m not going to talk about Tuesday Night Worlds—during which all sorts of laws and basic rules of courtesy are broken—but instead will focus on how the local PO-PO defines these things.
Overtaking is a fancy traffic-engineer word for getting passed by a car. Statute 304.678 says that a driver overtaking a bicycle proceeding in the same direction shall leave a safe distance and shall maintain clearance until safely past the bicycle. It also imposes a penalty for violating it. Unfortunately, Missouri is soft here. In twenty other states it is mandated that a car HAS to give three feet of space. In Pennsylvania, the law says four feet. MoBikeFed is working on it, but you know how it goes.
Statute 304.012 does decree that the operator of any motor vehicle shall drive in a careful and prudent manner and at a rate of speed so as not to endanger the property of another or the life or limb of any person and shall exercise the highest degree of care, but again, you know how it goes.
There is also a law that describes when a vehicle is allowed to pass another vehicle. Statute 304.016.4 is quite lengthy and specifies that vehicles must give ample room and pass on the left. It is permissible to pass on the right in the following circumstances:
- the other vehicle is making a left turn
- two lanes of traffic going in the same direction with sufficient width
- on a one-way street
As for driving on the left side of the road, that is only permitted when there are a sufficient number of lanes or when the left side of the road is clearly visible and free of traffic to leave room to pass. It is never ok to drive on the left side when approaching a crest or curve, or within 100 feet of a bridge, tunnel, train tracks, or an intersection.
That leaves bad conduct.
Columbia was the first city to pass a Harassment Ordinance in the state of Missouri, but it’s catching on in other places. 16.145 is not limited to bicyclists, however. That’s why it’s numbered in the 16s. The ordinance says that a person commits a Class C misdemeanor of harassment against a bicyclist, pedestrian, or person in a wheelchair if the offending person does the following for the purpose of frightening or disturbing:
- throws an object
- sounds a horn, shouts, or directs a sound
- places a person in danger of immediate physical injury
- knowingly engages in conduct that creates a risk of death
Revenge is sweet, but cyclists can get in trouble too.
I have talked to rooms full of police officers about this law. Some like it because it gives them another tool to curb road rage; some hate it because they say it’s unenforceable. Either way, I have been riding bicycles in Columbia for twenty-three years and it is much more civil out there since the passage of this ordinance. As I was once told by a police officer, the law is there to teach, and people now have the message that threatening people is not OK just because you’re in a car.
Next time: The Wrap Up: A Few More Laws and a Pop Quiz