Passing a Cyclist in a No-Passing Zone

In both our Law Enforcement training course and in our Law Enforcement Pocket Guide, we assert that motorists may pass a bicyclist in a "no passing" zone.

Due to a number of inquiries, we are clarifying this assertion with reference to the state code of Georgia as well as with commentary from two attorneys who specialize in laws pertaining to cyclists. 

Relevant state laws:

§ 40-6-46.  No-passing zones 

   (a) The Department of Transportation and local authorities are authorized to determine those portions of any highway under their respective jurisdictions where overtaking and passing or driving to the left side of the roadway would be especially hazardous and may, by appropriate signs or markings on the roadway, indicate the beginning and end of such zones and, when such signs or markings are in place and clearly visible to an ordinarily observant person, every driver of a vehicle shall obey the directions thereof. Such no-passing zones shall be clearly marked by a solid barrier line placed on the right-hand element of a combination stripe along the center or lane line or by a solid double yellow line.

(b) Where signs or markings are in place to define a no-passing zone as set forth in subsection (a) of this Code section, no driver shall at any time drive on the left side of the roadway within such no-passing zone or on the left side of any pavement striping designed to mark such no-passing zone throughout its length.

(c) This Code section does not apply under the conditions described in paragraph (2) of subsection (a) of Code Section 40-6-40 nor to the driver of a vehicle turning left into or from an alley, private road, or driveway.
Here's the text of the exception referred to above in 40-6-46 (c):
§ 40-6-40.  Vehicles to drive on right side of roadway; exceptions 

   (a) Upon all roadways of sufficient width, a vehicle shall be driven upon the right half of the roadway, except as follows:

   (1) When overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction under the rules governing such movement;

   (2) When an obstruction exists making it necessary to drive to the left of the center of the highway, provided that any person so doing shall yield the right of way to all vehicles traveling in the proper direction upon the unobstructed portion of the highway within such a distance as to constitute an immediate hazard.
The term "obstruction" has been intentionally highlighted, as this is the term that applies to bicyclists.

Legal Interpretations

Ken Rosskopf, of KenBikeLaw in Atlanta, provides the following context for the statutes listed above:
"The cases interpreting §40-6-46 and §40-6-40 stand for the proposition that a slow moving vehicle can be an obstruction, but that the issue was a question for the trier of fact.  Smith v. Lott, 246 Ga. 366 (1980);  An officer may be justified in stopping a vehicle passing in a no passing zone if he had a reasonable articulable suspicion based on a violation of §40-6-40  (driving on the wrong side of the road).  Dunbar v. State, 283 Ga. App. 872."
Ken McLeod, Legal Specialist for the League of American Bicyclists, adds:
"There is no definition of what constitutes an obstruction in the Georgia Code or Uniform Vehicle Code (UVC). There is an argument to be made that when obstruction is used in the UVC that it is listed with inanimate or solid objects, rather than movable objects – like bicycles. However, the dictionary definition would weigh in favor of a more expansive meaning that includes bicycles."

The bottom line?

Passing a cyclist in a "no passing" zone is "probably legal, " says McLeod. He adds that law enforcement "may still ticket someone [who passes a cyclist in a "no passing" zone], but that person can likely get out of the ticket if they contest it."
Thanks to Mr. Rosskopf and Mr. McLeod for their assistance with this research.