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« Practical Gearing | Main | Please don’t ride your bike on the sidewalk »

3 Feet: Most would give a dog more room than that

I’m not sure of the exact count but so far some 16 states have passed 3 foot passing laws for motorists overtaking cyclists.

In some states these bills have passed quite easily, in others they have been vehemently opposed.

Quite honestly I fail to see what the problem is. I doubt most drivers would pass an eighteen wheeler at less than 3 feet clearance; most would come to a complete stop and give a stray dog more room than 3 feet.

So why the big deal in asking the same for a cyclist? In Virginia a bill was recently shot down,

An opponent of the bill, Republican Delegate John Cosgrove, argued that the measure would force motorists into the oncoming lane and make the roads less safe for drivers.

No dumb-ass, it means waiting behind the cyclist until traffic in the opposing lane has passed, then pass when it is safe to do so. At least behind the cyclist the driver is still moving; albeit temporarily at a slower pace.

During any trip by car; count how many times we have to wait behind a vehicle turning left. We don’t sit there a blow our horn impatiently; we wait as long as it takes for a break in opposing traffic so the vehicle ahead can turn and we go on our way. It is all part of our daily driving experience; we expect delays.

Texas recently passed a 3 foot law; however, the governor vetoed it, saying that motorists are already subject to “Reckless and Careless Driving Laws.”

However, this doesn’t seem to work too well in Texas. When a couple on a tandem were hit from behind and both killed last year, no charges were filed against the driver of a pickup truck that hit them.

Opponents of these laws argue that they are unenforceable and point out that police officers can’t get out there with tape measures. These laws are a guideline; when a motor vehicle hits a cyclist, obviously the driver didn’t give the cyclist 3 feet.

There was an exact case like this in Arizona recently (AZ has such a 3 feet law.) where the driver of a garbage truck, struck and killed a female cyclist.

What about other vulnerable people on the road, a pedestrian, or a motorist changing a tire. Common sense and common decency says a driver should slow down, stop if necessary, and then give them as much room as possible in passing.

But of course, if common sense and common decency prevailed, we wouldn’t need 3 foot passing laws.



Reader Comments (16)

Naturally, a driver passing cyclists will cross the double yellow and force an oncoming car into shoulder of opposite lane. This driver believes it is the cyclists that are causing the danger as if the timing for him was unfortunate and unavoidable.

We have a Tuesday night ride on a curvy highway where impatient commuters are often seen doing this. Often the car forced off the highway into shoulder honks his disapproval and the driver passing the cyclists is seen shaking his head at the cyclists in frustration all the while breaking the law, i.e. passing in an unsafe manner.

This mentality exists and will cause a good percentage of motorists to take many risks just to avoid slowing down to create better timing for their passing maneuver.

Sometimes people are in a rush just to make it to the grave.

May 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMark

If there is a law in place, at least some people will try to obey it, assuming they're aware of it. Three feet isn't enough though.

May 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterstephen_mc

A petition to bring the 3 foot law into force in the UK was recently vetoed based on the fact that "Rules 163, 211 - 213 of The Highway Code advises drivers to give cyclists at least as much room as a car when overtaking and to give them plenty of room and pay attention to any sudden change they may have to make."

It's funny how cyclists are treated as normal vehicles when convenient, and as a mere nuisance or 2nd class road users when not.

May 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

That's a great point. I've seen drivers inconvenienced by ducks meandering across the road for minutes, and nobody seems annoyed. But when those same drivers are slowed by 10 seconds by a single cyclist, it's a major offense.

Goes to further support you previous post about behavior of cyclists being very important. Being courteous and concientious road users is a must.

May 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBig Mikey

Three feet from where to where? Three feet from the car's bumper to my tire is a lot less than three feet from the outer edge of the car's mirror to my shoulder.

May 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTexasYankee

Unsafe passing ... I see it every day on my morning commute, multiple times.

One day, I'm sure, I'll see a collision ... and you know the driver who survives will try to blame the cyclist.

I think impatience is right behind inattention when it comes to causes of auto crashes.

May 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRider

The governor of texas certainly shot down the law on the state level, but the City of Austin, his hometown, saw fit to make it a city law recently. Not sure how effective it will be, I've been commuting by bike (sold a beautiful 1967 Camaro to do so) for two years and really don't have many problems in Austin here. People are fairly aware, I stick to the roads best traveled, and I researched it A LOT before I hopped on the bike full time. it's said to be more of an educational tool than an enforcement tool. However it seems that it gives the police something to cite the driver for in a car/bicycle accident instead of just letting them go which seems to be the norm.

May 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdave

You could take it as a compliment. People are afraid of what a dog might suddenly do but a cyclist is considered more predictable.

BTW, I'm pretty sure it's 3 feet laterally.

May 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLeGimpe

Its a ridiculous world out there at times. Us humans aren't the brightest thing on the planet. We place our behinds in 3000lbs of metal to cart our hairy rear ends around. In just 100 years, we have made fools of ourselves in this manner.
Yet, the world now relies on vehicle sales to keep the economy afloat, so it ain't gonna get any better. If it was up to a politician, every man, women and child should own a vehicle from day 1. If it was up to a business person, we'd have wheels on our homes as well. People making money off our hog style energy consumption. Now, 2.5 billion people are about to come on line (china and india) with the same love as we have for big stuff. Soon will come the day when the oil wells will run out... opps, that's peak oil. I think we just hit it. That was the world wide recession.
Soon will come a day when only the elite will be able to afford to drive. Food prices will increase dramatically. And, those in suburbia will have to sell their homes for nothing... who wants to pay 10 bucks a liter for gas and drive to/from work approx 30km away.

Things have to change or we will end up killing ourselves dead. Creators of our own misfortune with our weapons of mass destruction.
Technology can be a good thing. But, when politicians and business folks get a hold of it... opportunism arises... Don't expect goodness anymore. Expect greed and foolishness. The point we are at now.

Thank goodness fellow cyclists are fighting. For the hyper-panic world of ever changing speed is impatient. And, self serving. So, thank a cyclists for making your world safe!!! They are not the larger threat to society. Humans are with their weapon of mass destruction... the 3000lbs of metal with 150+ hp and enough fuel to blow up things.... watered down it all is.

bless those who have been injured or died due to our stupidity on this planet. We have grown too large for it.

May 21, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjac

Having a 3-foot law helps maintain awareness, and it combats the pervading misconception among so many drivers that having to slow down and move over for a bicycle is a sign of poor driving skills.

Too many otherwise nice, friendly drivers end up being cycling hazards simply because they think a skilled driver should be able to accurately pass a cyclist with minimal moving over.

May 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPierre

I'm glad that we are able to have this discussion regardless of whether the law is codified.

I've seen this legislative approach in other areas of the law. The phrase reasonable person is used frequently in tort cases when assessing negligence, this allows for the court to determine reasonableness. By codifying the three foot rule, it is never reasonable to pass cyclists within 3 feet. This would leave motorists freedom to pass regardless of the conditions, as long as they leave a three feet buffer. But sometimes it is never reasonable to pass a cyclist. By leaving this area reasonableness open to judicial interpretation, cyclist's rights could be better protected. I personally would hate to see a case end in favor of a motorist just because they passed a cyclist by more than 3 feet.

For example in some jurisdictions that implement the strict english version of contributory negligence the three foot rule would work against a cyclist. If a cyclist swerves into a vehicle because they thought a person was opening a door, they could be held to be contributorily negligent and barred from recovery as long as the motorist was passing the cyclist by three feet before the cyclist swerved.

May 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterZeke

Most motorists view bicycles as another vehicle, not as a human - so we're competition - along with the other cars and trucks. If someone is walking along the road, most passing cars will allow many feet of safe space. True?

On the other hand, I see the same wacky behavior with fellow cyclists on bike paths. Most of my commute is on the Burke-Gilman Trail, a major bike commute route near Seattle. When I see people walking the trail, as I pass them, I'll move all the way to the left to allow the walker the most space. Many (most?) cyclists don't do this and pass the walker with a few inches to spare. Must be some human condition - who knows?

What cracks me up, probably some of these cyclists peel off the trail and eventually hit the street - cursing cars that pass too close.

I'm just using some cyclists as an example. They still don't have that psycho mentality some motorists have, buzzing cyclists on purpose, flipping riders off, etc. The moronic "Cars own the road" way of thinking.

No matter the number of wheels under your ass - be considerate out there.

May 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDan O

There is enough room on most roads for a vehicle to safely pass a cyclist, even if a car is coming the other way. And if there isn’t, it is still easy to slow down for a few seconds and then pass, since a bicycle takes up so little of the road and is moving relatively slowly.

In Quebec a group of cyclists riding single file was recently mowed down by a pickup truck. Think about how hard that would be to do. You would almost have to be trying to do it.

Some politician near where I live recently proposed increasing the safe distance to four feet from three feet…as if that is the problem.

In my experience, there are different categories of motorists. The first category consists of people who are aware of cyclists on the road, and who drive safely when they are around. These are either other cyclists driving cars, or sensible people. They are a small minority, maybe 5% or less.

The second category is the largest: people who have no hostility towards cyclists, but who simply do not know what to do when a bicycle is on the road. And let’s face it, most people are not good drivers, it is just that their constant errors are not as dangerous when cyclists are not around. ( and this applies to drivers being careless with pedestrians too. )

In the second group is a small sub-category, drivers who are excessively cautious when they encounter a cyclist, to the point of actually doing things that put you at risk. For example, you are on your bicycle waiting to cross a four-lane road, there is fairly heavy traffic, and a car in one of the lanes starts to slow and even stop, thinking they are being “nice” by giving you a chance to cross. However all the rest of the traffic is still going, so they only slow things down for everyone. These people are not malicious, but they are annoying; a friendly hand signal is usually all that is called for.

Finally the third category, again maybe 5 %, are people who are hostile towards bicyclists, and actively harass, yell at, and buzz or even hit a bike if they can. The first thing they probably do when they see a cyclist is look around to see if there are any police or witnesses around. These people are the psychopaths who live amongst us, and they don’t necessarily stand out initially in their outward appearances. They can be middle aged people in mini vans, but they are extremely dangerous and the only thing that guides their actions is whether they think they can get away with it.

So, in my opinion, the majority of drivers are dangerous, to varying degrees, simply because they are not educated and don’t know how to safely drive in the presence of bicycles. I think the fact that bicycle riding is safer in areas where there are more cyclists on the roads bears this out. The solution then is to educate drivers at a young age, to specifically train them how to pass a cyclist; this should be part of driver’s ed curricula that are now mandatory in many places as part of the graduated licensing programs.

And for the third category, the maniacs who target bicyclists, education will not help, the only approach is deterrence, and prosecuting them as vigorously as we do drunk drivers. These people prey on cyclists because they think cyclists are vulnerable. And if you ever encounter one, don’t acquiesce but defend yourself forcefully, it is the only thing they understand.

Thanks for the blog Dave.

May 23, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteranonymous

Different people in every country get the loans in various banks, just because this is comfortable and fast.

May 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLaurelTrevino

I agree on the fact a small percentage of motorists are psycho when it comes to bikes. Everyone has experienced a touch of this while riding over the years. I'd also agree the type of person who engages in this type of stupidity may be someone who otherwise appear pretty normal.

Lucky for me, even after 25+ years of riding, the incidents of this type of whacked out behavior have been few and far between.

Here's something off my blog that points to a really stupid case of harassment:

I'm sure everyone has been through this:

May 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDan O

I read Dave's comment above with interest as I was in austin around the time he posted it. I was on a working vacation down in Texas, visiting realtives in Houston, then making my way home slowly up through the panhandle and on into Colorado. I spent three lovely days in austin. I found the downtown drivers remarkably polite and the bike routes well marked. I participated in the social ride on Tuesday night out of Mellow Johnny's and we rode route 31 through downtown on out. What a treat. The next day I rode out 360 and took FM2422(?) out to Bee Cave. There was not a lot of traffic but the speed limit was 65, if I recall. The thing that made this ride so very pleasurable (besides the scenery) were the 6-8 foot shoulders which seem to bless most of these hill country Farm to MArket Roads in Texas. I found Austin to be much superior ro Boulder in terms of the number of available and safe routes (boulder canyon could certainly use those kinds of shoulders) and in ease of getting around town on a bicycle. Kudos to Austin!

June 6, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterskylab

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