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 youre 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 werent 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 youre 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!

16 thoughts on Passing Zones and Left Hand Turns: Beware of Tricky Situation

  1. Another danger of this unpredictable scenario to keep in mind is if you, the rider, are passing slower traffic where left hand streets and driveways exist. A driver pulling out of this street or drive is naturally going to look to his left before pulling out, thereby not seeing an oncoming rider executing a pass in his lane! Keep your eyes peeled.

  2. As a full time RVer and Harley rider, it amazes me how reckless drivers will pass without being able to see the entire length ahead. I’ve seen some very near misses for head-on collisions. Its never worth dying for!

  3. Wow! Great article! This is something I never would have thought of even though I’ve been driving for 30-plus years and going into my fourth year on a bike. Thanks for sharing!

  4. We followed a motor home that was not doing the speed limit for many miles. Just when a straight stretch of road appeared, we started to pass. The motor home unexpectedly slowed down, my gut feeling — was there a reason? Luckily we almost stopped, as a deer that we couldn’t see stepped out into the oncoming lane. Being aware of something that doesn’t seem right. Saved our day.

  5. In New Jersey, they have jug handle lefts. Many left hand turns are made from the right.Since left hand turns are dangerous, don’t expose yourself to being hit from behind or front. Scoot over to the right shoulder, square off as if crossing an intersection and wait for all traffic to pass. Then cross.

  6. This is the exact setup of the driveway to my house. I like to hope I have plenty of experience doing the double-check when driving a car, but it’s always good to have the reminder for when I’m on the bike. Thanks for the great article.

  7. Great article! I had never considered the cars passing behind me before, now I will always be on the lookout! I have always been very watchful of cars making turns in front of me, but had not considered my making turns being that dangerous. Thank you for this eye opener!

  8. I used to ride a lot in Mexico. The custom there is when traveling on this kind of road a vehicle planning to make a turn to the left pulls to the right shoulder and only turns left when the road is clear in both directions.

  9. Also good to be aware if you are the doing the passing — check that the vehicle on the left waiting to turn does not turn into your path creating a head on collision. Even in the car I am aware of cars passing in the passing zone before I turn.

  10. Yes, I have to agree there are many grenades out there. People have a tendency to pass when they have a rolling road block in front of them that hinders seeing far as well. I see many roads like this. The article is sound. There are so many scenarios where bikes are passing and someone decides to turn left without giving a signal 500 feet before the turn and pow, or someone you’re going to pass at the last minute decides to turn left as your passing at the last minute. At best the only thing one can say or add to this is also cover your brakes and clutch when passing and absolutely watch your back as you stated. There is one more danger, fast bikes. I ride a Triumph Rocket which is maybe eighth in the fastest bikes around so imagine people who think dropping the hammer solves everything. You drop the hammer to pass, the speed builds fast and then one of the scenarios happens, you’re in hurtsville. I’ll remember your words and implement them. OK watch for people passing as we are left turning on the broken yellow. Got it.

  11. Great advice for both new and experienced riders. I would not have necessarily considered this when riding in this situation. Now, I will.

  12. Great article. Thanks for sharing your experience. I will be more diligent about watching for impatient drivers in this situation.

  13. Great article! Very scary with so many impatient drivers on the road.

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