Update: Sept. 23, 2013 — Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia require that motorists give bicyclists at least 3 feet of clearance when passing.
California became the 22nd state to enact the law after Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. signed the bill into law on Sept. 23, 2013. He goes into effect on Sept. 16, 2014.
The state legislature passed a 3-foot law (AB 1371) in August.
This was the third time that a 3-foot passing bill had made it this far in California. Gov. Brown vetoed the two previous bills. In 2012, he cited potential liability problems regarding a provision that allowed motorists to pass on a double-yellow line if that were the only way to give a cyclist 3 feet of space.
The only other governor to reject a 3-foot passing bill has been Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
In April 2012, Nebraska became the 21st state to require that motorists give bicycle riders a margin of 3 feet or more when passing.
Twenty states require a 3-foot gap; in 2011 Pennsylvania enacted a bill that requires a 4-foot gap.
While 3-foot legislation has found easy passage in some states, California is among the states where bicyclists have struggled. Some form of the legislation has been considered nearly every year since 2005. Virginia also has had bad luck with the bill, and it has never passed the legislature there.
In reporting on the Pennsylvania bill, the York Daily Record succinctly explained its importance:
“The intent of the new law is pretty clear. Recognize bicyclists as part of the transportation mix and follow some basic rules of the road to ensure the safety for all.”
The 21states with 3-foot laws are: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia (July 1), Illinois, Louisiana, Kansas (as of July 1, 2011), Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin. (Connecticut, New Hampshire enacted in 2008; Colorado and Louisiana in 2009; Maryland and Mississippi in 2010.) See links below.
Pennsylvania has a 4-foot passing law.
Also, the District of Columbia requires a 3-foot margin when passing a bicyclist.
At least five recommend 3 feet in driver’s manuals; four require a safe distance without specifications.
New additions to list
California became No. 22 after the governor signed the bill AB 1371. Nebraska came on board in 2012 when Gov. Dave Heineman signed LB1030 on April 10, 2012. The number of states requiring a 3-foot gap grew by three in 2011.
Nevada became the 19th state with a 3-foot passing law on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011, after Gov. Bryan Sandoval signed Senate Bill 248 in law on May 19.
Also in 2011, Kansas and Georgia became the 17th and 18th states requiring that motorists give bicyclists at least 3 feet of space when they pass. Those laws went into effect on July 1.
California stood to be the 20th state to enact a 3-foot passing law, but Gov. Brown vetoed SB 910 (see “California governor vetoes 3-foot passing bill”). Supporters vowed in January to reintroduce a 3-foot law in 2012 that addresses the governor’s concerns. He vetoed that bill too.
Meanwhile, at least nine cities in Texas have ratified 3-foot passing bills recently. That follows Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s veto in 2010 of a statewide 3-foot law that had gained legislature approval but faced opposition from special interests.
Montgomery, Ala., also passed a 3-foot passing ordinance for the city in 2012.
Maryland and Mississippi enacted 3-foot laws in 2010, but five other states failed to get a 3-foot passing law enacted that year. Multiple bills failed in Virginia, and measures were defeated in Wyoming and North Dakota. A state legislator in Washington withdrew his bill, as did a legislator in Rhode Island who sought to expand the passing gap from 2 feet to 3 feet.
A bill in Oklahoma that sought to strengthen penalties in the 3-foot law is locked in committee. It would raise the fine for a passing violation to $500, injury to not less than $1,000, and death to $10,000. The bill also made it illegal to throw objects at bicyclists from a passing vehicle.
Given the track record of these bills in 2011, it appears that it might be more difficult to add more states to the list of 3-foot passing states in the future.
3-foot clearance states
Arizona: “When overtaking and passing a bicycle proceeding in the same direction, a person driving a motor vehicle shall exercise due care by leaving a safe distance between the motor vehicle and the bicycle of not less than three feet …” Sets fines if violation causes death or injury. (Doesn’t apply if bicyclist is not using an adjacent bike lane or bike path.) Enacted in 2000.
Arkansas: “… pass to the left at a safe distance of not less 3 feet…” Sets fines in case of death or injury. Enacted in 2007.
California: A driver of a motor vehicle shall not overtake or pass a bicycle proceeding in the same direction on a highway at a distance of less than three feet between any part of the motor vehicle and any part of the bicycle or its operator. … If the driver of a motor vehicle is unable to comply with subdivision (c), due to traffic or roadway conditions, the driver shall slow to a speed that is reasonable and prudent, and may pass only when doing so would not endanger the safety of the operator of the bicycle, taking into account the size and speed of the motor vehicle and bicycle, traffic conditions, weather, visibility, and surface and width of the highway.
Colorado: The law requires motorists give bicycles at least 3 feet or risk a $110 fine. Also states anyone who throws an object at bicyclist be charged with class 2 misdemeanor, which carries a $250 to $1,000 fine and 3 to 12 month jail sentence. (Enacted in 2009; went into effect Aug. 5)
Connecticut: “… safe distance means not less than three feet when the driver of a vehicle overtakes and passes a person riding a bicycle.” (Enacted 2008)
Florida: “… must pass the bicycle or other nonmotorized vehicle at a safe distance of not less than 3 feet between the vehicle and the bicycle or other nonmotorized vehicle.” See also Florida Bicycle Law guide published by the Florida Bicycle Association. Enacted 2006.
Georgia “… the term ‘safe distance’ means not less than three feet. … the operator of a motor vehicle, when overtaking and passing a bicycle that is proceeding in the same direction on the roadway, shall leave a safe distance between such vehicle and the bicycle and shall maintain such clearance until safely past the overtaken bicycle.” House Bill 101 signed into law May 11; went into effect July 2011. See Georgia Bikes! press release. Enacted 2011.
Illinois: “… leave a safe distance, but not less than 3 feet…” Enacted 2007.
Kansas: “The driver of a vehicle overtaking a bicycle proceeding in the same direction shall pass to the left thereof at a distance of not less than three feet …” Passed by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback on April 15. [The bill also allows bicyclists and
motorcyclists to pass through red lights they cannot trigger. See Kansas Cyclist for details.] Enacted 2011.
Louisiana: Motor vehicle operator “shall leave a safe distance between the motor vehicle and the bicycle of not less than three feet and shall maintain such clearance until safely past the overtaken bicycle.” Also includes anti-harassment provision. See “Louisiana governor signs 3-foot rule”
Maryland: “…when overtaking a bicycle, …. pass safely at a distance of not less than 3 feet …” Enacted 2010.
Mississippi: Requires 3 feet when passing, and forbids throwing objects at bicyclists from cars. Enacted 2010.
Minnesota: ” … shall leave a safe distance, but in no case less than three feet
clearance, when passing the bicycle or individual …” Enacted 2004.
Nebraska: LB1030 require a motorist “overtaking a bicycle or electric personal assistive mobility device proceeding in the same direction shall exercise due care, which shall include, but not be limited to, leaving a safe distance of no less than three feet clearance, when applicable, when passing a bicycle or electric personal assistive mobility device and shall maintain such clearance until safely past the overtaken bicycle or electric personal assistive mobility device.”
Nevada: SB 248 requires motorists to pass safely by “passing to the left of the bicycle or electric bicycle at a distance of not less than 3 feet from the bicycle or electric bicycle. Passed by legislature and signed in law by Gov. Bryan Sandoval. Enacted 2011.
New Hampshire: “… the distance shall be deemed to be reasonable and prudent if it is at leat 3 feet when the vehicle is traveling at 30 mph or less, with one additional foot of clearance for every 10 mph above 30 mph.” (Enacted 2008)
Oklahoma: “… exercise due care by leaving a safe distance between the motor vehicle and the bicycle of not less than three (3) feet until the motor vehicle is safely past the overtaken bicycle.” Enacted 2006
Pennsylvania: The bill requires motorists to pass bicyclists “within not less than 4 feet at a careful and prudent reduced speed.” Enacted 2012.
Tennessee: Creates a subsection known as “Jeff Roth and Brian Brown Bicycle Protection Act of 2007 … shall leave a safe distance between the motor vehicle and bicycle bof not less than three feet and shall maintain such clearance until safely past the overtaken bicycle.” Enacted 2007
Utah: “An operator of a motor vehicle may not knowingly, intentionally, or recklessly operate a motor vehicle within three feet of a moving bicycle, unless the operator of the motor vehicle operates the motor vehicle within a reasonable and safe distance of the bicycle.” Enacted 2006
Wisconsin: “… shall exercise due care, leaving a safe distance, but in no case less than 3 feet clearance when passing the bicycle or electric personal assistive mobility device…” Enacted 1973 (!). See also Safety and Consumer Protection: Motorist reminders… “Leave at least three feet when passing bicycles, more room at higher speeds.”
And the District of Columbia: A person driving a motor vehicle shall exercise due care by leaving a safe distance, but in no case less than 3 feet, when overtaking and passing a bicycle. (18-2202 Overtaking and Passing)
Boise, Idaho: City Council passes law requiring that cars leave 3 feet of space when passing a bicycle (also must yield to bicycles in intersections and cannot cut-off cyclists when turning) Also illegal to throw objects at bicyclists or otherwise harass them. (added Jan. 13, 2010)
Mobile, Alabama: City Council requires motorists give bicycle riders a 3-foot gap when passing. (news reports Oct. 25, 2011)
Other cities with 3-foot laws include Oklahoma City and Edmond, Oklahoma, as well as Austin, Fort Worth, Edinburgh, Beaumont, El Paso, Helotes, New Braunfels, San Antonio, and Denton, in Texas.
Safe distance states
New York has Merrill’s Law, which requires motorists to “keep a safe distance” when passing a bicyclist. Named for Merrill Cassell, 66, who was sideswiped by a bus and killed. Enacted in 2010.
Rhode Island enacted a law in 2010 that requires motorists pass at a safe distance, defined as a distance sufficient to prevent contact if the bicyclist were to fall into the driver’s lane of traffic.
South Carolina enacted a law in 2008 that requires a “safe operating distance” (not 3 feet per se).
Michigan’s motor vehicle code, section 257.636, says the driver of a vehicle overtaking a vehicle proceeding in the same director shall pass as a safe distance to the left of that vehicle. This applies to bicycles, as bikes are considered vehicles when they’re on the road.
Drivers’ manual states
Kentucky: “Pass a cyclist only when it can be done safely, and give ample room (3 feet) between your car and the cyclist. … Give the cyclist extra room if your vehicle has extended outside review mirrors.” — page 66
Washington: “Space for bicyclists: … Allow three feet of space when overtaking or passing a bicyclist…” — pages 78 and 79.
Kansas: “When passing a bicyclist use extreme caution and pass four feet to the left of the bicyclist.” — page 24.
Texas: Although there’s no guidance for automobile, it is recommended that trucks and other large vehicles give six feet of clearance. “You should always allow at least six feet to the left of the two-wheeled vehicle when you are passing.” — page 15-20.
– Both Safe Route Connection.org and Arizona Bike Law blog had information that I relied upon in creating this list. The Safe Route Connection website has a state-by-state list of vehicle passing laws related to bicycles.
Bills submitted for 2011
Georgia — HB 101; enacted.
Kansas — HB 2192; 3-foot provision added to a seatbelt bill
Nevada — SB 248 passed and signed into law.
North Dakota — Rejected 17-29 after legislators couldn’t see “consistent and meaningful” enforcement, Grand Forks Herald
Oklahoma — SB 951 sets penalties for failure to give 3-foot gap and harassing; in committee
Rhode Island — Withdrawn; extended 2-foot law to 3 feet
Virginia – Tabled in Transporation Committee
Wyoming – Failed to get necessary 31 votes (30-28), AP
Bills submitted for 2010
Iowa — Senate File 117 Passed by the Senate in 2009, but stalled in the House. A subcommittee is revamping the 3-foot bill to include provisions to protect “vulnerable users” by adding enhanced fines. More at Sioux City Journal.
Maryland — Senate Bill 51 Requires motorists to pass bicycles by “not less than 3 feet;” also makes it illegal to throw an object at a bicyclist. Also, motorists crossing a bike lane to turn must yield the right of way to bicyclists.
Ohio (announced Sept. 28, 2009) Senate Bill 174 requires a motor vehicle overtaking a bicycle to maintain a safe passing distance between the motor vehicle and bicycle of not less than three feet. It eliminates the current requirement for the operator of an overtaken vehicle, including a bicycle, to give way to the right in favor of the overtaking vehicle at the latter’s audible signal.
Virginia — Senate Bill 566 and House Bill 1048 (HB 1048 defeated) requires motorists give bicyclists at least three feet. The bills also outlaw tailgating and create a a new Class 3 misdemeanor of Careless Driving — to counter the difficulty of charging motorists with Reckless Driving when they kill or injure cyclists. More details at Virginia Bicycling Federation and at Richmond Sunlight (SB 566 and HB 1048).
State laws under consideration in 2009
Colorado (passed and signed into law)
Louisiana (passed and signed into law)
Maryland (passed and signed into law in 2010)
Rhode Island (amended and enacted in 2010)
Texas (passed, but Gov. Nick Perry vetoed)
Washington (not resolved)
Previously under consideration
Hawaii: SB 2892 — For any motor vehicle passing a bicyclist, a safe distance shall be not less than 3 feet, except that a bicyclist may reasonably leave a bicycle lane to avoid debris or other hazardous conditions. Check status.
New Hampshire: HB 1203 — The distance shall be presumed to be reasonable and prudent if it is at least 3 feet when the vehicle is traveling at 30 miles per hour or less, with one additional foot of clearance required for every 10 miles per hour above 30 miles per hour. Check status at Bike-Walk Alliance of New Hampshire or QuickBill search.
New Jersey: The state legislature passed a 3-feet-to-pass bill on June 25; it’s under consideration by the Senate transportation committee.
Ohio: HB 390 — “When the operator of a vehicle or trackless trolley overtakes a bicycle or other slow vehicle, the operator shall pass at a distance of not less than three feet between the vehicle or trackless trolley and the bicycle or other slow vehicle.” Check updates at Ohio House bill status
South Carolina: HB 3006 – “An operator of a motor vehicle shall allow a safe operating distance between the motor vehicle and a bicycle when passing and overtaking a bicyclist.” This bill passed the House and became SB 0354. Check Palmetto Cycling Coalition for updates. (Passed out of Senate committee on April 23, 2008 — The State.)(Signed into law June 10, 2008 – AP)
Vermont: H.578 — “An operator of a motor vehicle that is passing a bicyclist proceeding in the same direction shall exercise due care by leaving a distance between the motor vehicle and the bicyclist of not less than three feet while the motor vehicle is passing the bicycle. Additionally, the operator of a vehicle that passes a bicyclist proceeding in the same direction may not make a right turn at any intersection or into any highway or driveway unless the turn can be made with reasonable safety.” Also S. 275. Check status at Vermont bill tracking.
Washington: HB 2732 — “The driver of a vehicle approaching a pedestrian or bicycle that is on the roadway or on the right-hand shoulder or bicycle lane of the roadway shall pass to the left at a safe distance, of no less than three feet, to clearly avoid coming into contact with the pedetrian or bicyclist….” Check for updates at Washington legislature bill search or Bicycle Alliance of Washington bill watch.
– This list of 3-foot passing bills considered in state legislatures was compiled in part with information provided by the National Bike Summit published by League of American Bicyclists.