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« Living in the Moment | Main | Life is Absurd »

3 Feet of Space: It’s not much to ask

More and more states are bringing in a 3 Foot Passing Law as part of a safety package for cyclist. If common sense prevailed, or there was just plain old respect for the safety of another road user, such laws would be unnecessary.

It should be pretty obvious that you don’t buzz by a cyclist at a high rate of speed, missing him by inches, however, in the absence of common sense laws have to be enacted.

Whenever a state proposes a 3 foot passing law, inevitably the naysayers ask, “How can you enforce such a law?” Short of every cyclist having a 3 foot measuring stick attached to the back of the saddle, with a flag and preferably a sharp spike attached, it can’t be enforced to the letter.

In spite of this, legislation such as a 3 foot law is a good idea, because if someone passes a cyclist and the vehicle’s rear view mirror slaps the bike rider on the back of his head, then obviously that driver did not give the cyclist 3 foot of space. Incidents like this do happen, much too often.

If a law is in place, it is my opinion that most people will at least attempt to comply. Where there is a speed limit, most will drive no more than 5 or 10 mph over, the speed limit stops the majority from driving at 30 mph over. Notice I said the majority, there are always exceptions.

Speed limit laws act as a guide line; this is the speed you are supposed to drive. So too is the 3 foot passing law a guide line, it makes people aware that when you see a cyclist up ahead you are going to have to make an attempt to go around him, not hold your current line and just skim by.

Roads that have lanes of 15 feet or wider are often more dangerous for a cyclist than narrower lanes. The reason, speeds are higher, and a car passing a cyclist will not deviate from the line he is taking straight down the middle of the lane. In his view the lane is wide and the cyclist has plenty of room.

A problem arises when there is another vehicle following close behind. (Tailgating.) This driver does not see the cyclist because the car ahead is obstructing his view. If this driver is one of those who hug the right hand edge of the road, he doesn’t see the cyclist until he runs into him.

A 3 foot passing law encourages the first driver make a conscious effort to move to the left; thus alerting the driver behind that there is something ahead in the lane.

Also by moving over there is a chance the driver behind can now see the cyclist.

In some parts of the US they are enacting laws to give a cyclist “Half the lane,” this I feel is a sensible approach, possibly even better than the 3 foot idea. It is easier for a passing motorist to estimate half a lane, and it automatically allows for varying road widths.

Where these laws are implemented, drivers need to be educated and told that it is okay to cross the double yellow to pass a cyclist if it is safe. (As the car shown in the top picture is doing)

A cyclist is about seven feet in length, taking three or four feet in width and traveling at as relatively low speed. It is not like overtaking an eighteen wheeler semi. Incidentally, I can practically guarantee someone overtaking a semi truck, will give at least three feet in passing.

I would also like to see the old “Share the Road” signs replaced with something simple, and similar to the one shown above, left. A sign that says “Give a cyclist 3 feet,” makes a “Share the Road” sign obsolete. It says, we are here, we’re entitled, just give us a little room



Reader Comments (15)

I agree. People are much more likely to give adequate room when they know the law requires them to do so.

I think much of the friction between cyclists and drivers derives from confusion in the minds of those behind the wheel -- they don't know what to do around cyclists.

This kind of legislation, while no panacea, helps.

Here's a Web site of a guy in my hometown who has made this his mission.


He sells jerseys with the @3 Feet Please" message.

May 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRider

This kind of law makes sense even if only in terms of general, public awareness. I think there are many drivers out there who actually think that giving wide berth when passing a bicycle is something only nervous nellies do, as if a good driver should be able to pass as closely as possible without hitting the bicycle.

Even just having signs about this on the road would help dispel the idea that bikes don't belong there. I get yelled at almost every day just for riding a reasonable distance from the curb -- and this is in a city where having bikes on the roads isn't a new idea that just popped out during last summer's gasoline price crisis.

May 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPierre

Even a 3 foot law is useless if it is not enforced. Back in March a Chattanooga, TN frame builder, David Meek was killed when he was dragged under the wheels of a truck. Apparently the foot board snagged the bag on the bike. The driver was not charged because according to the accident investigator; "could have seen the bike, but it is not likely that he should have seen the bike"' so much for the 3 foot law in that case!

I agree that the 3 foot sign would be an improvement over the Share the Road ones. Here in NC we currently only have a 2 foot clearance requirement. And most motorists seem to think that Share the Road means for a cyclist to get the hell out of their way.


May 17, 2009 | Unregistered Commenter2whls3spds

Bikers who use public roads should pay a bike tax. We pay by car, not by person, so if a person is already paying for their car, they should still pay for the bike. At least then the argument that bikers have as much "right" to the road might hold a little water.

May 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJim

A road tax on bikes? That would certainly encourage bike commuting.

How do you propose taxing my 1986 Schwinn LeTour? This bike was probably originally worth $200 or maybe $250 new. So if we depreciate the original value over 23 years, that makes the taxable value of my bike worth, say, absolutely nothing!

Should we tax by weight, like some motor vehicles? Most cars weigh 3000 lbs or so. My old Schwinn weighs 25 lbs. Lets tax it by mileage...I might ride this bike maybe a thousand miles or so a year on public roads. My bike and I certainly cause tremendous wear and tear to the infrastructure. How about a bicycle emissions tax? How about a bicycle fuel tax? I'm sure our government tax coffers will be overflowing with all this bike revenue.

Sure, go ahead...in order to legally tax my bike (remember, it's a road vehicle now) we'll have to license, register, title, and insure it like a car. The administration costs alone will cost the state many times more than it's worth. And I have no problem with it IF you allow me a corresponding property tax break on my two motor vehicles. Because if I'm riding my bike, I'm not driving my car...right?

By the way, bikes have as much 'right' to the road as motor vehicles because it's the law.

May 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterD Dau

It's a digression, but if bike tax/licensing became a legal requirement, I'd simply tax my bike as required. As I comply with other road law, I'd comply with that too, although I'd campaign to get it repealed too ;-)

In the UK, however, vehicle taxation for bicycles would be more problematic, as it's linked to the level of vehicle CO2 emissions. As such, I think there are now some classes of car that need not be taxed! Any extension of vehicle excise duty (colloquially "Road Tax") would therefore need an exemption to the legislation to require a vehicle that doesn't emit CO2 to be taxed!

The problem of close passes is more fundamentally one of drivers who may never have ridden a bicycle on a public road in their life. Certainly in the UK we are fast approaching a time where an entire generation will not have done so (told it's too dangerous for them when they were children, and seeing no reason to once of driving age with cheap motor vehicles and petrol readily available).

Adding to the problem, in the UK at least, there's currently no requirement for retesting of drivers either. Unless one does something illegal enough to be banned (and bear in mind that drivers who kill are unlikely to be banned at the moment, judging by the sentences handed down) most drivers could drive from 17 - 70 years of age with no requirement for another test or to keep their knowledge of motoring law up to date. A one off test, during which you may never encounter a non-motorised vehicle, is thought to be sufficient.

May 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJohn the Monkey


Many cyclists own personal property and live in houses or apartments, those are charged a property tax...guess what goes into the general fund to pay for road repairs? Bond issues to build/repair roads; repaid by...taxpayers. You can fit a dozen bicycles in the space of one car; tax accordingly.

The cost to Americans for cleaning up auto accidents as well as lost productivity, maintaining emergency crews, damage to roadways etc exceeds $164.2 billion, that is over $1,000 for every man, woman and child. Two cycles crashing are unlikely to cause that kind of damage cost.


May 18, 2009 | Unregistered Commenter2whls3spds

A great way to solve the problem would be to make motor vehicle owners pay the real, full costs for their use of roads... and that's not even taking into account the costs to society in general.

If we're talking about taxing, we would also have to find a way to exempt people who don't own motor vehicles.

Obviously, you can see that any of that would be impossible. A lot easier to just have a law that helps remind drivers about giving cyclists enough room when they pass.

Bikers? What do motorcyclist's have to do with it?

May 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPierre

As I daily traverse 'share the road' signed tarmac any vehicle (auto, bus, motorcycle or truck) IS a problem due solely to 'aerodynamic' forces influencing your bicycle while passing by at 35-45MPH posted limits.
Sadly, a three (3) foot 'passing lane' may limit but NOT alleviate this problem which can prove fatal for the cyclist.
I do support construction of a dedicated three (3) foot wide road shoulder 'Bicycle Lane' properly devised and maintained.
NOVELTY, described lane located RIGHT of the 'fog line' visibly improving BOTH cyclist and driver safety!
(Two areas of new local roadway are so constructed!)
One of these days Government will use fundamental 'Laws of Physics' to confirm the validity of policy mandates or proposals.
Both cyclist and driver prefer to be right, just not 'dead right!'.

May 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterWilliam R. Walling

We just passed a three foot law here in colorado. The bill also clarified that cyclists can indeed ride two abreast as long as they are not impeding the normal flow of traffic. I don't recall the exact wording. However, I imagine most motorists (99% +) have no idea this is the law and without signs indicating such they will continue along with their same prejudices or natural courtesies firmly in place.
I as well imagine most loaw enforcement officials in this small colorado county don't know the law either.

May 18, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterskylab

I find it elusive that road drivers have so much concern about not tail gating the driver in front of them (whatever that arbitrary time rule is), but they can have the luxury to whizz past a cyclist at arm's length almost killing him or her. Such idiots need to go to school, or have their brain checked.

May 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRon

I will gladly give a bicyclist three feet clearance when passing them, but they MUST ride over in the right third of their lane to make my passing them easier and safer for both of us. Stupid advice for bicyclists to "take the lane" (ie. ride in the center of the lane or even riding two abreast in a lane) is ridiculously unsafe for both bicyclists and motorists. If bicyclists will ride over to the right side of the lane, the three foot rule is workable. Otherwise it is not.

May 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDan

Thanks for commenting. Most cyclists when they take the lane, ride where the road is the smoothest, that is where a car's inside wheels run. There is no point in riding in the center of the lane, where the road is often rougher. Motorists sometimes percieve the cyclist is in the middle of the lane.
If you can spare 5 minutes read this short story "AJ, the cyclist, and a large brown dog."
As with any cross section of the population, the cycing community is not without its fair share of misfits and jerks. But if you read through my previous posts you will see I allways advocate that cyclists obey the rules of the road, and be considerate of other road users. Having said that, being considerate should not include putting one's own safety at risk. That goes for any road user.

May 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDave Moulton

Obviously the people who voted yes on this law do not try to drive in the neighborhood I live in. It is simple not safe to pass a cylist on any streets nearby me unless the cyclist is all the way to the right, and the often are not. Giving the cylist 3 feet when he or she is in the middle of the lane would mean driving within 6 inches of a parked cars on the other side of the street. I understand drivers need to be more considerate and safe when passing cyclists, but cyclist need to show the same considerate behavior to drivers as well or this law is no good. I live in an area with "two-way" streets where the streets are so narrow cars have to pull into parking spaces to let other cars pass coming from the other direction. The cars seem to be considerate of eachother and pull over, but the cyclists just ride in the middle of the street and won't get over to allow cars to pass! What entitles cyclists to own the road and not cars? I honestly think if cyclists and drivers BOTH were more considerate the road would be safer for all.

June 24, 2009 | Unregistered Commentercandyraver

where can we get the bumper sticker you have at the top? i really like it cause it shows the car crossing a double yellow line, which it seems like most people don't realize is legal.

September 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMitchl
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