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Since 1999, the #1 Motorcycling Magazine for Women and the Men Who Ride with Them

Passing Zones and Left Hand Turns: Beware of Tricky Situation

Safe riding advice that could save a life!

By Genevieve Schmitt, Editor

This is one of the most important articles I’ve ever written as it could save a life. I wish it could have saved two lives I know that were lost as a result of this tricky traffic pattern that happens in mostly rural areas. 

Often we feel the urge on our motorcycles to keep up with the group or maybe just the rider in front of us. This can get us into trouble. We’re so focused on staying together that we momentarily get distracted from the road and our defensive driving skills disappear. This happens a lot when in a passing zone, when one rider decides to pass on a rural two-lane road. If you find yourself in a rural area while riding, with a group, or without, please heed this advice.

passing zones and left hand turns
Here is a perfect example of a passing zone that exists where there is a left turn into a driveway, where the white truck is. Extra caution is needed when riding a motorcycle or driving a car when you're turning left because of a disturbing situation that could occur.

Bear with me as I spell out some basics here: A double yellow line means you are riding in a no-passing zone, so no passing or overtaking of another vehicle is allowed because there is not enough distance on that stretch of road in which to execute a safe pass. 

A dotted yellow line means you’re riding in a passing zone, and according to the traffic rulebook at my local sheriff’s office in Montana, “Passing must be made without interfering with the safe operation of any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction or any vehicle being overtaken."

What I discovered in my rural neck of the woods is that there are dotted yellow lines (passing zones) where there are left-hand turnoffs. Often these turnoffs lead to obscure places like campgrounds, scenic pull-offs and out-of-the-way lodging or someone’s home, and are usually gravel roads, like the road on which I live. 

My road comes off a two-lane state highway. The yellow lines are dotted where the road turns off. This means when I’m slowing down from 70 to 20 mph to turn left onto my road, I not only make sure there are no vehicles coming in the opposite direction, but I look over my left shoulder to see if there are any vehicles behind me executing a pass because I am slowing down (and they don’t realize I’m turning.) 

I do this head check because I ride my motorcycle — and drive my car — defensively. I always flick on my turn signal well in advance too. On my motorcycle, I even extend my left arm to indicate I’m turning. But not all drivers and other riders pay attention to these indications because either they have already started pulling out from me behind me to pass before the turn signal goes on, or are behind a vehicle that’s behind me and cannot see my arm or the turn signal flashing.

Impatience and frustration can lead a person to pull out and pass without paying attention to what’s going on ahead. This is what happened once when I was traveling in Colorado. 

I was riding a small 200cc dual-sport and the engine could not go faster than 60mph. I was traveling with another rider who was on a similar dual-sport and we were in a 65-mph speed zone (which means traffic was moving at 70 mph). Cars were passing us because we were traveling slowly relative to traffic flow. 

We reached the gravel turnoff to the guest ranch where we were staying, and, seeing traffic backing up behind us, I flicked on my turn signal as we were slowing and stuck out my left arm indicating we were turning left.

There was no opposing traffic when we reached the turnoff, but, thank goodness, I came to a stop in our lane and then turned to look over my left shoulder before turning because a car two vehicles back pulled out from this lane (angrily, I could tell) intending to pass the two cars in front of it — and us. 

If we were turning left, that car might have hit us broadside. The yellow lines were dotted. The driver had the legal right to pass, however, as indicated by the rulebook, he could only pass “without interfering with the safe operation … of any vehicle being overtaken.” That’d be my friend and me on our motorcycles. A little patience on the driver’s part would have been nice. Good thing I was on my game that day. We waited for him to pass and made sure other drivers weren't following suit. 

passing zones and left hand turns straight road
Even though this is a long straight road where executing a pass could take place safely, if a vehicle is turning left into the driveway (where the white truck is) from the from the far right lane a driver behind it not paying attention, could execute a pass, putting both vehicles in danger.

Same thing goes if you, the rider or car driver, attempt to pass in a passing zone where there are left-hand turns ahead. A vehicle ahead of you may decide to turn left at the last minute, especially travelers unsure of where they’re going. If you pull out to pass and the driver ahead of you decides to turn left and doesn’t see you coming up alongside him, an accident could occur. So look ahead when you're executing a pass, whether on a motorcycle or in a car, that there are no left hand turnoffs where a driver in front of you could all of sudden decide to turn left.  

Once I had experienced that disturbing incident on my dual-sport bike, I was on high alert to this tricky situation of passing zones and left-hand turns. The bottom line is, ride defensively and with patience. I always assume drivers are not going to do what they’re supposed to do. I assume they are going to do the opposite. Be on the lookout for this left-hand turn passing zone scenario next time you are riding in a rural area.  

This is an article we feel every rider should read. So please share it with a friend. Even car drivers should know about this situation. Thanks!

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