Wait for parallel parker; don’t try to pass

Q: I’m parallel parking on a two-lane road with a double centerline, so no passing, right? Is it legal for a car to pass me as I’m parallel parking, or do they have to wait until I’m out of the lane?

A: Two yellow lines down the center of the roadway let us know we’re in a no-passing zone. That means “no driving on the left side of the pavement stripe.” Violating the law doesn’t require you to actually pass another vehicle.

But are there any exceptions?

There is a law that allows drivers to cross the centerline to avoid an obstruction, but no-passing zones are not part of the context of that law. A hardcore literalist (which likely runs afoul of the legislators’ intent) might conclude that obstructions are not an exception to the no-passing zone law.

But if a pinball machine falls off the back of the pickup in front of you, and you swerve across the centerline to avoid it (assuming there are no oncoming cars) that would seem a reasonable action and consistent with the ultimate goal of traffic laws and driving: don’t crash.

Plus, the moment you need to make an evasive maneuver to avoid a collision is not the time to be considering the finer nuances of traffic law. It’s better to avoid the crash than be a literalist and pile into the coffee table.

The question then is, “Does a car in the process of parking constitute an obstruction?” It’s temporarily blocking your route, but I’m going to go with “no” on this. The language in the law is, “When an obstruction exists making it necessary to drive to the left of the center of the highway…” and I think you’d have a hard time convincing an officer or judge that it was “necessary” to cross the centerline, given that if you had waited a few more seconds your lane would have been clear.

Also, I’ve had some discussions with officers about whether cyclists and pedestrians would qualify as obstructions and the conclusion has been negative. From the folks I’ve talked with, an obstruction is something that can’t move out of the way on its own.

That’s the long response to a short answer: No, you can’t legally cross a solid centerline to pass a car as it’s parallel parking.

What about if the parallel-parking car is far enough into the space to where I can go around it without crossing the centerline?

I’ll answer that question with another question: How much do you trust that the parallel parker is going to get it right on the first try? A good driver doesn’t intentionally put themselves in a position that increases their odds of a collision. If you start to pass that parking car and it pulls back into the lane for a second attempt, you’re forced to make a less-than-ideal maneuver to avoid the parking car. Better to be patient and leave yourself options.

Doug Dahl writes a weekly column for this newspaper. He is with the state Traffic Safety Commission.