New Illinois Bicycle Traffic Laws Took Effect January 1


Published on January 3 2018 2:44 pm
Last Updated on January 3 2018 2:44 pm

Three new Illinois bicycle traffic laws took effect January 1. The most notable change in traffic law will allow drivers to pass bicycles in a no-passing zone in order to improve cyclist safety and traffic flow on the road. Under certain conditions when it's safe to do so, it will be legal for drivers to cross the a solid no-passing centerline into the oncoming lane in order to pass a cyclist by at least three feet, the minimum legal clearance.

The new legislation also officially legalizes bicycling on road shoulders, a common safety practice of cyclists, and allows cyclists to use a rear tail light instead of the legally required rear reflector when bicycling at night.

The traffic bill, House Bill 1784, was proposed by Ride Illinois, a nonprofit bicycle advocacy organization dedicated to improving bicycling conditions and safety throughout the state. Filed back in January, HB1784 was sponsored and led through the General Assembly by State Rep. Tim Butler of Springfield and State Sen. Heather Steans of Chicago. The legislation unanimously passed both chambers in May, and was signed into law by the governor in September. The new legislation went into effect on January 1.

"This new legislation legalizes some common motorist and bicyclist traffic practices," said Ed Barsotti, Ride Illinois' Chief Programs Officer. "The intent is to make the roads safer while improving car-bicycle interactions."

Long no-passing zones on two-lane roads commonly present a problem for drivers trying to legally pass a bicyclist with at least three feet of clearance. The travel lanes of most roads lack the width needed for drivers to safely and legally pass a cyclist with at least three feet of clearance while staying within the lane.

In this common situation, most motorists do cross solid centerlines to pass cyclists anyway. However, some drivers choose to pass the cyclist too closely to obey the no-passing zone, and in doing so, illegally squeeze by within the same, too-narrow lane - a scary maneuver sometimes leading to sideswipe crashes. For long no-passing zones, those drivers obeying both the no-passing zone and the three-feet passing law may not be able to pass a bicycle for a long time.

Under the new law, a motorist may overtake and pass to the left of a bicycle in a no-passing zone when: (1) the bicycle is traveling at a speed of less than half of the posted speed limit; (2) the driver is able to overtake and pass the bicycle without exceeding the posted speed limit; and (3) there is sufficient distance to the left of the centerline. The driver must also pass with at least three feet clearance of the bicycle - a distance mandated by state law.

The new legislation also legalizes bicycling on shoulders, a common safety practice of biking. Illinois law largely restricts vehicles driving on a shoulder, with some specified exceptions (e.g. farm tractors and equipment), and the new law adds bicycles to the list of exceptions. Having this legal clarity will benefit cyclists as well as road agencies desiring to sign or otherwise designate bicycle routes having paved shoulders. Bicycling on shoulders is not required, however, as there are situations for which cyclists should not ride on a shoulder.

The last provision of the new legislation will allow cyclists to use a rear, red tail light instead of (or in addition to) the currently required rear, red reflector when bicycling at night. Today's improved bicycle light technology has much greater visibility than reflectors, and many bicyclists solely use rear lights already. Eight states and the City of Chicago already allow either a light or reflector in their vehicle code, and Illinois joined the group as of Monday.