Courtesy Cascade Bicycle Club
Though riding a bicycle is safe, sharing the road can sometimes be hazardous.
While cyclists can protect themselves by knowing the rules of the road and riding visibly and predictably, motorists also need to be aware of their responsibilities when sharing roads with cyclists. As Washington’s Cascade Bicycle Club explains, “Too often cars and bicycles come precariously close to each other. Bicyclists need at least three feet between them and a passing car.”
This is the basis for the 3-foot passing law. Though the law varies from place to place, in essence it states that a motorist who is passing a cyclist from behind must give at least three feet of space. The law has been adopted internationally in countries such as France and Spain, as well as in 20 US states, including Arizona, Minnesota, Nevada, Florida and most recently Pennsylvania (see US map for complete list), and in only one Canadian province, Nova Scotia.
The motive behind this law is simple, according to the California Bicycle Coalition: “Passing-from-behind collisions kill more adult bicyclists than any other cause.” As well, “cyclists need space to maneuver in the event they need to avoid a pothole or road debris,” explains Cascade Bicycle Club.
In many places, current legislation states that vehicles must pass cyclists at a safe distance, though the distance is not specified. The 3-foot passing law provides clear standards to clarify vague legislation and can place legal responsibility on the passing driver after a collision.
The results of a coroner's report investigating cyclist deaths in Ontario, Canada from 2006-2010 show a clear need for safer passing education and legislation. Of the deaths resulting from collisions with motor vehicles, the majority involved a driver passing the cyclist from behind.
A number of campaigns have sprung up to educate and promote 3-foot passing laws, including the California Bicycle Coalition’s Give Me 3 campaign, Washington Cascade Bicycle Club’s Give 3 Feet, and Joe Mizereck of Florida’s 3 Feet Please.
Even for areas where the a 3-foot passing law has yet to be passed, by educating drivers to give cyclists ample room when passing, we can take a greater step forward towards safely sharing the road.
For more information on individual US state and city legislation, visit Biking Bis.