Premature termination of translation in eubacteria, like Escherichia coli, often leads to reinitiation at nearby start codons. Restarts also occur in response to termination at the end of natural coding regions, where they serve to enforce translational coupling between adjacent cistrons. Here, we present a model in which the terminated but not released ribosome reaches neighboring initiation codons by lateral diffusion along the mRNA. The model is based on the finding that introduction of an additional start codon between the termination and the reinitiation site consistently obstructs ribosomes to reach the authentic restart site. Instead, the ribosome now begins protein synthesis at this newly introduced AUG codon. This ribosomal scanning-like movement is bidirectional, has a radius of action of more than 40 nucleotides in the model system used, and activates the first encountered restart site. The ribosomal reach in the upstream direction is less than in the downstream one, probably due to dislodging by elongating ribosomes. The proposed model has parallels with the scanning mechanism postulated for eukaryotic translational initiation and reinitiation.