Three Feet to Save Lives

Places around the world are adopting a 3-foot passing law to make roadways safer for cyclists and prevent tragic collisions by legislating that motorists must give cyclists a minimum of three feet when passing.

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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.

3 Comments

  • ch1

    In this coroner’s report, these individuals all with the title Dr. preceding their names are also recommending helmet laws for Ontario, using their statistical evidence from deceased individuals and completely disregarding the mechanics of, and real causes of the accidents. They quoted Denmark in the study in the study as far as the three feet passing rule, but yet they completely ignored the great cycling safety success in Denmark in the complete absence of helmets and helmet laws. I suggest the coroner and cronies are not qualified to make recommendations on cycling safety, since they are unable to consider all the facts and interpret them in the appropriate context of the real world. Their ignorance should not rule our lives.

  • ch1

    In this coroner’s report, these individuals all with the title Dr. preceding their names are also recommending helmet laws for Ontario, using their statistical evidence from deceased individuals and completely disregarding the mechanics of, and real causes of the accidents. They quoted Denmark in the study in the study as far as the three feet passing rule, but yet they completely ignored the great cycling safety success in Denmark in the complete absence of helmets and helmet laws. I suggest the coroner and cronies are not qualified to make recommendations on cycling safety, since they are unable to consider all the facts and interpret them in the appropriate context of the real world. Their ignorance should not rule our lives.

  • Denis Baldwin

    Your article shows how the truth can so easily be distorted. The Ontario Coroner’s Report stated that the most common impact points with fatal bicycle motor vehicle collisions were Bumper 53%, Hood 41% and Windshield 34%. Some collisions involved all three impact points. The Coroner’s report concluded that “This pattern suggested that the majority of collisions took place when the driver was attempting to pass the cyclist.” The report did not indicate that the individual accident reports were examined in detail to see if this presumption was in fact correct. I would suggest that the above impact points suggest that the motor vehicle did the hitting rather than the cyclist, but do not necessarily suggest the motor vehicle was overtaking. An impact point on the side of a motor vehicle would suggest that the bicycle did the hitting rather than the motor vehicle. Typically a motor vehicle doing the hitting would involve a higher impact speed than when a bicycle did the hitting, hence the grater number of fatalities. None of this suggests blame as either party could be at fault. A couple of years ago I did witness a collision between an adult female cyclist and a motorist. The female cyclist was doing nothing wrong, she was simply waiting on her mountain bike at a stop sign until it was safe to make a left turn. A car travelling in the opposite direction to the one I was a passenger in turned in front of our car, cutting the corner and as a result hitting the cyclist. This was almost a head on collision. The front wheel of the mountain bike took the initial impact, after which the cyclist rolled on to the hood of the car and then impacted the windshield which was destroyed. Fortunately this was not a fatal collision and the lady still rides a bicycle. My point is that the above impact points could occur regardless of whether the cyclist is hit from the rear, the front or either side. A combination of all three impact points i.e. bumper, hood and windshield suggest a car rather than a taller vehicle such as a four wheel drive truck. One should remember that while a coroner can be expected to examine the injuries to a deceased human being and decide the cause of death they are not necessarily qualified to determine the mechanics of a collision. This possibly should be the field of a qualified accident investigator.

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