Arizona, like the large majority of other states, as well as the UVC has a bicyclist-specific rule about “where to ride” laterally; enjoining bicyclists to ride toward the right edge, but with a wide variety of exceptions [The LAB says 42 states plus D.C. has some form of this rule bikeleague.org/content/bike-law-university]
Known generically at the FTR law (Far To the Right. Also known as AFRAP for As Far Right As Practicable, or AFRAS As Far Right As Safe); I’ll refer to it here as FTR. Since such laws only apply to bicyclists, they can form the basis for discrimination against bicyclists particularly when they are mis-represented, which is rampant both in the popular media, and apparently law enforcement training, or perhaps there is no training and myths get absorbed through popular media accounts. [a long, detailed historical view can be found at iamtraffic.org/equality/the-marginalization-of-bicyclists]
The fact of the matter is FTR law is flawed, and has over the years been “patched” to try and account for safety flaws; and as a result we have a very complicated law that is not well understood — particularly the exceptions. For a discussion of bicyclists should (for safety) ride see where-to-ride-on-the-road.
The FTR Law
Arizona’s FTR law is ARS §28-815A, and for comparison it is UVC §11-1205 [reproduced in full, at the bottom]. For comparison purposes: they are substantially the same, although the UVC also applies to mopedists, and also adds an odd exception about RTO lanes.
Both have the pre-condition: “…on a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing”;
Exceptions (Arizona numbering):
- When overtaking or passing a slower road user
- When preparing for a left turn
- Avoiding hazards, and
- Whenever the lane is too narrow to share.
When the precondition is met, and none of the exceptions apply, a bicyclist must (my emphasis) “ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway“. Gallons of ink and millions of words have been written about how to properly interpret the word practicable; while it’s important, as explained below such legal hairsplitting is rarely required. Another frequently debated topic is the narrow lane exception, which is, again, important but rarely matters because modern, laned, busy roads are overwhelmingly designed with distinctly narrow lanes; this is explained in more detail below. [and note that shoulders are not part of the roadway; cyclists are never required to leave the roadway to comply with FTR, see shoulder-use ]
Roads Where Cyclists can be in violation of FTR
As a practical matter, the only roads where FTR applies are likely to be roads where passing and overtaking are non-issues. These roads will mostly be un-laned, like the residential street pictured or sometimes local roads with clearly wide lanes (example). On roads like these, if a bicyclist is going less than normal speed of traffic, if faster traffic appears, the bicyclist is required to ride as far right as practicable. Practicability normally means something like no closer than 2 to 3 feet away, but varies depending on many factors including speed, sightlines (the bend in the road coupled with the wall obscures drivers’ views from the sidestreet), the many driveways are a backing hazard, etc. In any event the exact distance is rarely an issue because overtaking traffic would have no difficulty doing so. The preceding all assumes no other exception (debis, left turn, etc) exists.
Being struck-from-behind in daylight on a road like this would be exceedingly rare, regardless of the cyclist’s position; in any event a collision could result in a valid FTR violation.
Roads Where Cyclists cannot be in violation of FTR
For whatever reason, in urban areas, all “busy” roads, especially in post-auto sunbelt are constructed with multiple-lane (more than one through lane in each direction) and have been constructed with lanes which are too narrow to share safely side by side. Perhaps it should go without saying, but it is on these roads where overtaking bicyclists can become an issue. [a lane with 14′ of usable width is the rule-of-thumb minimum for sharing; though even that is too narrow to share with many common vehicles, see #narrow for details. The vast majority of modern arterial roads have lanes significantly less than 14′ of usable width. 10 and 11 feet are very common. Formerly 12′ or wider lanes have by-and-large been converted to distinctly narrow lanes decades ago in the push to install bikeways, with the extra space being converted into a bike lane.]
Roads such as these are “shared” by bicyclists and motorists one-after-the-other. Bicyclists cannot, should not, and are not required to share the right lane here. Bicyclists on such roads cannot be in violation of FTR. The bicyclist pictured is, furthermore, in compliance with the SDL (see next section for references) by operating (anywhere) in the right lane; the faster traffic in the bottom picture changed lanes to pass the cyclist. And bicyclists, as non-motorists, cannot be in violation of the Motorist Impeding Law, or Speed < R&P [§28-704A, or §28-701E, see cazbike.org/bicycles-are-not-motor-vehicles-and-why-it-matters and see below “What about Impeding?” ]. The requirement to turn off the highway when impeding 5-or-more vehicle only applies to two-lane roads [§28-704C ]
Bicyclists and many other classes of slower road users (animal-drawn vehicles, animal riders, heavy trucks, mopeds, motor-driven cycles, Buses, Street sweepers and other road maintenance equipment, construction equipment and other vehicles used only ‘incidentally’, etc.) are all permitted to use these roads, despite their operating significantly below the posted maximum speed limit (in the example, the road is posted at 45mph Maximum); there is no minimum speed limit established here.
More about the SDL
The SDL [Slow driver law, §28-721B, UVC 11-301(b)] mentioned briefly above becomes important whenever any of the FTR exceptions exist. It would also function just fine for all road users in the event that FTR was repealed — as may bicyclist advocates recommend due to its continuous mis-application.
The SDL in concept is nothing more than fast lane / slow lane. Faster drivers use the “fast lane”, the left part of the roadway available for their use, and slower driver use the “slow lane”, the right portion.
The SDL is nearly identical to the FTR law, except it applies to all drivers. When the precondition is met “…proceeding at less than the normal speed of traffic”, any driver must drive either in the right lane (on streets with lanes) OR “as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway”. Note well that a driver complies with SDL by doing one or the other, a driver need not do both; ‘or’ means or. The SDL has no effect on bicyclists whenever the FTR is not excepted (e.g. when riding on an unlaned road; or a road with wide lanes) because the duties FTR imposes on a bicyclist are either identical, or more stringent than SDL.
As mentioned above, there are many types of slow traffic — traffic which sometimes or even always operate significantly below the posted maximum speed limit — both motorized and non-motorized that are both permitted and expected users of all roads; with the exception of limited-access highways.
But what about impeding?
Once you, or whoever, become convinced a bicyclist isn’t violating the FTR law (or the SDL), invariably attention turns to impeding. The short answer is simply that AZ’s general impeding law, 28-704A doesn’t apply to non-motorists; The longer answer (which applies in 45 other states besides AZ) is published opinions by upper courts in two states find that drivers of vehicles operating at a reasonable speed for the vehicle they are operating are not in violation of the motorist impeding rule. The two cases in point were a tractor in Georgia, and a bicycle in Ohio. The full explanation is here.
The special two-lane impeding rule, 28-704C, does apply to bicyclists, but only stipulates what to do when impeding, not that impeding in and of itself is a violation.
Legislative History in Arizona
The modern version of Arizona’s FTR was created in 1986 [sb1218-2nd-regular-session-1986 ], it was mentioned expressly in the floor notes it was to conform with UVC.
Misapplication of FTR to wrong-way cyclists
Probably because of the common misunderstandings of FTR generally, it apparently (and actually, I’ve seen crash reports citing FTR against “wrong-way” bicyclists in collisions) becomes the swiss-army-knife of statutes whenever a bicyclist is involved. Among other issues, because of the “at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place…” clause, FTR cannot apply when a bicyclist is riding along a sidewalk, driveway, or crosswalk. There are no (state) statutes that apply to sidewalk cyclists; any further regulation would have to come through local ordinance, which is rare. [e.g. city of Tempe, and now Yuma, are the only known municipalities that specifically regulate crosswalk riding. Much more on sidewalks/crosswalks see sidewalk-cycling-in-arizona which references Arizona Supreme Court’s Maxwell decision. ]
Wrong-way cyclists in the roadway are very unlikely to be in violation of FTR (e.g. besides speed of traffic, does an exception apply?), though they are certainly in violation of the wrong-way statute, which applies to all drivers. [ ARS §28-721, see ride-with-traffic]
For issues revolving around bike lanes see bike-lanes-are-preferential-use-lanes.
Law enforcement should take care to understand, and cite the correct law (or not cite, as the case may be).
There’s a common misconception that vehicles are only allowed one per lane; this is true most of time, because most lanes are only made wide enough for one vehicle, but the law about overtaking actually doesn’t say one per lane, it says “The driver of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle proceeding in the same direction shall pass to the left of the vehicle at a safe distance” §28-723.
Motorcycles have a enviable, special, provision that prohibits other vehicles, except for another motorcycle, from ever sharing a lane, regardless of how wide the lane lane is, or how slow the motorcyclist is traveling. The same statute also has a not more than two-abreast rule, similar to that for bicycles.
§28-903.. Operation of motorcycle on laned roadway; exceptions
A. All motorcycles are entitled to the full use of a lane. A person shall not drive a motor vehicle in such a manner as to deprive any motorcycle of the full use of a lane. This subsection does not apply to motorcycles operated two abreast in a single lane.
B. The operator of a motorcycle shall not overtake and pass in the same lane occupied by the vehicle being overtaken.
C. A person shall not operate a motorcycle between the lanes of traffic or between adjacent rows of vehicles.
D. A person shall not operate a motorcycle more than two abreast in a single lane.
Safety vs. Legality
For more about safety aspects of overtaking, and why it’s not just legal, but safer for all road users when bicyclists ride further left when the lane is too narrow to share see e.g. Bicyclist Lateral Roadway Position versus Motorist Overtaking Distance , Brian DeSousa and Daniel Gutierrez
ARS §28-815A. Riding on roadway and bicycle path; bicycle path usage
A. A person riding a bicycle on a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway, except under any of the following situations:
1. If overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction.
2. If preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.
3. If reasonably necessary to avoid conditions, including fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals or surface hazards.
4. If the lane in which the person is operating the bicycle is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.
UVC (2000 “Millenium Edition”, the most recent) §11-1205 — Position on roadway
(a) Any person operating a bicycle or a moped upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except under any of the following situations:
1. When overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction.
2. When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.
3. When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions including but not limited to: fixed or moving objects; parked or moving vehicles; bicycles; pedestrians; animals; surface hazards; or substandard width lanes that make it unsafe to continue along the right—hand curb or edge. For purposes of this section, a “substandard width lane” is a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and a motor vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.
4. When riding in the right—turn—only lane.
(b) Any person operating a bicycle or a moped upon a one-way highway with two or more marked traffic lanes may ride as near the left—hand curb or edge of such roadway as practicable.