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How to enforce 3-foot passing law to protect bicyclists

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To those who say that laws requiring motorists to give bicycles a 3-foot gap when passing are unenforceable, consider what police in Austin, Texas, are doing.

Maryland bike advocate shows what 3 feet looks like.

Maryland bike advocate shows what 3 feet looks like.

A few years ago, bicycle advocates in Texas convinced the legislature to pass a 3-foot law for passing bicycles. Gov. Rich Perry vetoed it, becoming the first governor to veto such a law (California’s Gov. Jerry Brown has since joined him).

City councils all across the Lone Star State realized, however, that 3-foot passing laws are important safety measures. Many passed local ordinances that require motorists to give bicyclists, and pedestrians, a minimum 3 feet of clearance when passing.

Austin was one of those cities.

To actively enforce the law, the police department sends one of its officers out on a bicycle. When a car comes too close, the officer radios ahead to a police car that chases down the violator and writes a ticket.

So far, according to the Washington Post, police have issued 104 citations and warnings. Tickets cost $167.

The bicycle-riding officers say they practice judging the distance ahead of time. If they can reach out and touch the passenger side mirror as the car passes, that’s definitely less than 3 feet and the car gets a ticket. If it’s close but they’re not sure, the driver gets a warning.

If anyone questions the police officers’ judgment, a video camera on the bicycle handlebars has recorded the entire event and can be used as evidence.

Right now, 21 states and the District of Columbia have laws on the books requiring motorists give bicyclists a 3-foot or more margin (Pennsylvania requires 4 feet) when passing.

I’m sure it would be helpful if police departments in those states issued tickets to violators to remind motorists about the law.

Also, California Gov. Brown signs 3-foot buffer bill into law


Permanent link to this article: http://www.bikingbis.com/2013/09/16/how-to-enforce-3-foot-passing-law-to-protect-bicyclists/

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  1. Clay

    The three foot message should be preached at all motor home and camper rallies/parks/conventions or any other place where motorhome drivers can be reached.
    While on bike tours in Colorado (they have the three foot law), we have these huge vehicles come WAY to close for comfort, as in barely missing us.

  2. fake

    I like how the the one holding the measuring stick is the driver, while driving.

    1. C2Cin2006

      To fake:

      So I suppose bicyclist being run over and maimed or killed is also some sort of “fake” conspiracy perpetrated by some anti-fossil fuel group.
      Maybe the team photographing the demonstration did not have an additional person handy or thought the message would be better served without further clutter.
      SInce you mentioned it the 3 foot “measure” is NOT 3 feet from the auto mirror and a cyclist being struck by a side mirror on a fast moving auto will be hurt or possibly killed.
      This picture was staged to provide an example. The auto and cyclist are just barely moving.
      But then you probably don’t get anything constructive…..FAKE

    2. Rider and driver

      Hey Fake…

      Did you ever consider that neither the bike or the vehicle are moving? And that the bike is either being held up by the stick or the “rider” may have a foot on the ground? Or maybe the bike is in a stand? Or possibly they are going about 2mph? You do realize that this was about a 99% chance that this photo was a photo op and staged?

      1. Good sense of humor

        Whoa…. As an avid cyclist and bicycle commuter I love to hear articles of cities actually enforcing this law but I do enjoy a humorous observation as well. Yeah it was a staged photo, but a funny observation non the less. I got a chuckle…. Thanks Fake.

    3. Banger

      Actually, you are wrong. You can clearly see the wooden dowel extend beneath the handlebars on both of the cyclists hands. They are both holding it.

  3. Allen Morris

    I assume this also means that a bicyclist can get a ticket if they pass a car within 3 ft.

    1. Mathme

      I’m a cyclist, and I hope so.

    2. bansidhe

      If it’s against the law then they should get a ticket. I am an avid cyclist and I support EVERYONE obeying the traffic laws.

    3. Timothy

      Do you really feel threatened and in danger when a bike is within 3 feet of you? Seriously the law is meant to protect slower moving traffic from motorists who are much faster and are not even considerate enough to give a safe passing distance. When was the last time you felt in danger from a bicycle. Your comment was pretty ignorant.

      1. Cecil Lee

        Timothy there are plenty of laws on the books for protecting the idiot. Yes, I agree bikes who pass cars should also get a ticket, as to prevent the car driver not to receive a false ticket, and as a safety reminder to the cyclist

  4. MarkB

    IMO, forget the 3-foot law; make it a REQUIREMENT to CHANGE LANES TO PASS!

    1. Mathme

      I also agree with this. A cager can’t share the lane with a motorcycle.

      1. itgoesbothways

        They aren’t motorcycles. .. thet don’t have licenses to ride and if they are being passed they aren’t keeping up with traffic as law states. Now on they hwy and such, I can see they are hopefully being safe and so should the motorist, but in the city…..use the freaking bike roads !!

        1. Shanon

          I live in a city with very few “bike roads”. There are a few trails around, but hard to really ride and get anywhere on them. The closest bike lane or trail to my house is about 5 miles away. I try my best to stay off busy roads, but it isn’t always possible to do that and go where I need to go.

          1. Brian

            I see bike routes as important too just like sidewalks. If they really want us to be less dependent on cars, it has to be bike and transit friendly. Where I work, I don’t feel safe biking there so I bike where it’s bike friendly and take the transit where there are highways. I feel that on some roads, a strip of paint isn’t enough to protect the cyclist on 60 km/h highways when there are trucks. We need concrete barriers or raised lanes. The lanes are also too narrow. In some cities, there are very few continuous roads that are traffic calmed. The side streets may not take you very far.

        2. Nic

          There isn’t a single state with a law that says you “must keep up.” There are “slow traffic keep right” laws. There are laws stating to pull over and let traffic pass if it’s a one-lane road and vehicles are starting to pile up. But definitely nothing about “keeping up.”

          And also, for the record, every single road is a bike road. A bicycle is defined under the law as a vehicle. Just like your car/truck/motorcycle. It’s the responsibility of the faster vehicle to SAFELY PASS a slower vehicle, regardless of type.

        3. larry

          A license isn’t a deed to the highway. It’s certification that you can safely operate your dangerous machine in a safe manner and consent to abide by the laws. The fact that you need a license to operate a motor vehicle on the highway, and not anyone can just jump on the roads with one make it a second class vehicle.

    2. MrSitcom

      That would be hard to do if a street only has one lane.

      1. gworrel

        I assume you mean one lane in each direction. Not hard at all. Just slow down and pass when there is room.

  5. C2Cin2006

    To AM:
    It is assumed you are sure that motorists are seriously injured or killed when a bicycle passes a parked car.
    Obviously you don’t get it that a 3000 pound projectile (car) kills whereas a bicycle (180 pounds with “operator” might dent the sheet metal.

    Duh..

    1. Mathme

      OKay, but some jerk on a bike comes riding up between lanes of stopped cars, the cars start to move and are now “passing” the bike that is between the lanes. Who gets the ticket? The drivers for not stopping or pulling into another lane of traffic? The cyclist should be stopped and ticketed for not observing the 3 foot line for his and the drivers’ safety. No, he is not going to kill someone in a car, but conscientious drivers are going to be on edge watching that cyclist and trying to avoid him– talk about distracted driving.

      I see people do this during rush hour and it makes my heart race. One “regular” doesn’t even wear a helmet. I guess I can’t be flippant and dismissive about his taking his own risks because I don’t want him to get killed. Ugh, I’m getting anxious just thinking about it! :)

      1. A biker

        It’s easy – just like riding a motorcycle and lane splitting in California – if everybody plays nice and merges back in when things start to flow there are no problems.

        1. Mathme

          Except that’s illegal in most states and the bike isn’t going to be keeping up with traffic. You suggest that they just cut into 50mph traffic? That seems cool.

  6. itgoesbothways

    Anyone who is from Portland should really think about this. Why, when we spend millions of $ a month on safe bike routes and roads should the motorist be responsible to keep the distance when an unhelmeted cyclist decides to ride in the car lane , NOT keeping up with traffic (as law states) amd chosing not to go one block over to the designated bike road. Clearly riding your bike in a 35 mph road, sight seeing in and out of traffic, is safe. NOT ! Next it will be the cyclist right to fly throw stop signs and red lights and the job of the motorist to avoid them ans not hit them cause they didnt stop at thier light….oh wait it’s already that way. IMO the tickets need to bc e going to unsafe rule breaking cyclists as well. Like driving a car, it is a privilege to do so and when the law is broken people get hurt.

    Don’t get me started on people doing this with their children in tow.

    1. Kolo Jezdec

      Car lanes? Really? Do they have little images of cars painted in the lane so that cars know where to travel? Motorists should be responsible to keep a safe distance for 2 reasons:, first, it is the law. more importantly, motorists are operating machines that are capable of killing a human being instantly. A 2012 Toyota Camry SE (the car I drive) weighs 3200 lbs, not including the driver and passenger(s). My bike, with me on it, weighs just under 162 lbs. That means the car weighs almost 2000% what what the bike weighs. And you want to complain about giving me 25%-30% of a lane that I have the same authority to use as you?

      You, sir, are a bully.

      1. Kolo Jezdec

        My mistake – the cars approximately 200% of the cycle weight.

  7. Jeff

    To itgoesbothways:

    Oh, it’s a car lane? Because I am relatively sure that, apart from freeways, bicyclists are allowed to use the lanes the cars use too. And where, exactly, does the law state that they must “keep up with traffic”? Riding a bike on a 35 mph road (as I do every day on my way to work, which just so happens to be the road I live on) can indeed be safe if all interested parties (drivers and cyclists) obey the rules and pay attention to driving/riding.

    I’ll tell you a couple other things. Yes, I do tow my children (pre-school) to school twice a week, so I’ll get you started on that. It’s perfectly safe, my girls love the ride, and I get my exercise in before work. To your point on stop lights (not stop signs), it’s now legal for cyclists to cross against a red light when it’s clear that they aren’t going to trigger the light to change.

  8. Stefani

    Roads were meant for cars. Bikes should be on bike trails.

    1. Nic

      People still try to use this argument?!? It is so blatantly wrong. Clearly, you need to read a driver’s manual again. Until then, please say off the roads.

    2. bansidhe

      Truth is the first roads in this country were built for bikes. Not cars.

      1. Michael

        Try again, the first roads were built for pedestrians and equestrians along with the odd cart. It took a couple hundred years for the bicycle to show up.

        Now if you are talking about paved roads outside of towns and cities, then your statement becomes almost true. They were paved for cyclists and farmers due to the scourge of automobiles tearing up the gravel and dirt roads.

    3. larry

      Do you even have a driver’s license? If so please turn it in.

  9. Gavirio Vicuta

    Cops have much better things to do and we are already taxed enough to waste such resources on this. Every time you ride, you risk injury. Get over it.

    1. larry

      Clearly you do NOT have anything better to do; the continually failing war on drugs is proof enough of that. Everything has inherent risk, that’s not the point. You as LEO are supposed to enforce the laws written to ensure public safety. Get off you butt and DO YOUR JOB.

  10. Luis

    I have been a cyclist since 2006 and I do MY PART. I stop at stop signs, red lights, give the right of way when I don’t have it, etc. When at an intersection I make EYE contact with the driver across from me. If I’m in the turn lane and I’m going straight, I make EYE contat with the driver behind me who has his right turn signal on and I move slightly forward and wave him through. What does that do for me? NOTHNG!! What does that do for the drivers? It makes them relfect at least for a little bit and realize that there’s a PERSON on that bike and a COURTEOUS PERSON at that. So you see? I SHARE THE ROAD!

    1. bansidhe

      I do the same. I make an effort to acknowledge any motorist who treats me with respect. I also obey the traffic laws so any motorist cannot say “look at that.. that cyclist ran a stop sign’… Of course, as we all know, motorists NEVER speed, NEVER roll through stop signs, NEVER pass over the double yellow line…

  11. My Road

    I say bikes be required to get tags and insurance. Pay the yearly taxes, then they can use the road. Until then get on the sidewalk!

    1. elizabeth

      try again My Road. this argument has been dubbed false time and time again. maybe you should do some research before making an argument.
      http://dc.streetsblog.org/2013/01/23/drivers-cover-just-51-percent-of-u-s-road-spending/
      in case you do not want to click the link,
      A new report from the Tax Foundation shows 50.7 percent of America’s road spending comes from gas taxes, tolls, and other fees levied on drivers. The other 49.3 percent? Well, that comes from general tax dollars, just like education and health care. The way we spend on roads has nothing to do with the free market, or even how much people use roads.
      so, mr. road, i’ll take that other 49.3% of the lane.

    2. larry

      Roads are for vehicles; sidewalks are for pedestrians. You own exactly 0 roads. Get over yourself.

      1. Timothy

        Hey Larry. You are wrong. We own just as much of that road as any other bone head like yourself does. Get a clue! Bicyclists are VEHICLES. We also own CARS which are VEHICLES too. Sorry to shout but I’m not sure you’d understand if I didn’t since you seem a bit slow.

    3. Timothy

      Roadways are paid for by property taxes. Most avid cyclists own homes. Freeways are paid for by gasoline taxes. Most cyclists own cars. In fact maybe dipwads like you should pay the cyclist who commute to work by bicycle as we don’t create the wear and tear on roadways the way cars do. Oh and we save you that parking spot too. Before you say something stupid maybe you need to do some research first.

  12. Roni Ellis

    To MyRoad:
    I would gladly pay for a tag, license, insurance to operate my bike particularly if I didn’t have to hear this complaint over and over. After all, I have a driver’s license, my car is tagged and I have liability and collision insurance. Is that enough for you? And most bicycle operators I know also are auto owners and licensed, insured and taxed vehicle operators.

  13. Greg

    If I am not mistaken most of these 3 foot rule laws are really 3/15 rules where if the passing vehicle is going more than 15mph faster then the vehicle being passed it must be done at a distance no less then 3 feet. People, this rule is a great compromise. It is not practicable to build bike roads everywhere, there will be bikes on the roads. It is my humble opinion that the auto drivers that are irritated know that they are in the wrong but feel so threatened to lose their resources that they use scare tactics to protect them. And I am willing to bet they do not even know that they are doing this. It is an instinct. I understand no one wants to hit another person. But even more it seems no one wants to have to slow down so their solution is to get rid of the cyclist. To make the point of scare tactics I have actually been passed on the inside of a blind corner while I was going the speed limit on my cycle and taking the full lane exactly so no one would attempt to pass. I flicked the guy off and so of course he pulled over up the road. we had words and he eventually apologized and we departed friends with a better understanding. Guess what. Slow down and pass safely or slow down the whole way. Its not your quality of life it is our quality of life. The roads are on public property set aside for traveling from one place to another whether on foot, cycle or motorized vehicle. If you as a car driver do not want to share them then they will have to be distributed a little more evenly.

  14. amy s

    Hi all – Nice discussion (for the most part.)
    I encourage you to go to http://www.CheckForBikes.org and take a look at the safety tool we have created, vinyl window clings to remind drivers to check for bicyclists before they open their (our) doors, pull into a parking spot, or make any other sudden move. I say “our,” because as has been noted, most of us cyclists also drive cars. This is a very friendly reminder – when a driver buzzes me, opens his door and I have to swerve to avoid it, etc, I pass on a few of these clings and explain their use. I always get a positive response!
    Please look at the website – you can order some of ours (Albany Strollers & Rollers’) or we can design custom clings for your group, city or organization! The clings are a really inexpensive and friendly awareness and safety tool!
    Thanks!

  15. Mariah

    I can’t help but notice that not only is the measured rider traveling in the door zone but the trailing officer is weaving in and out of the travel lane into the parking area, most importantly the right mirror is < 3' from the left side of the rider [according to the stick the space is 2.25' – 2.5' ] thus violating the ordinance and giving a poor visual example of what 3' actually looks like. The cherry on top is the great example of how not to ride as if you are traffic thus further discouraging drivers to give 3' when passing.

    The article also failed to mention an important tid-bit, APD has issued a non-enforcement policy for drivers crossing a double yellow/driving into oncoming in order to allow 3' on single lane roads but only when it is safe to do so. Meaning no crossing the double yellow on blind corners, hills, or when there is oncoming traffic approaching within 200'.

    A better law / ordinance would simply be "slow down and/or change lanes to pass."

    If you ride as traffic, share the road but not your lane, make them see you and make them change lanes to pass you'll be amazed at the difference in your road riding experience.

  16. F3

    As far as I know, the only roadways on which bicycles are prohibited (here, in Texas) are Interstate Freeways. Actually, I believe that motorcycles with motors under 250cc are also prohibited from using the Freeways here also. All surface streets are for use by all vehicles which are legal in the state of Texas: gas, diesel, CNG, LNG, propane, electric, hybrid, or carbohydrate-powered. The only exception for bicycles I know of is that most states have a prohibition on bicycles with a motor attached which can propel the bicycle faster than a certain speed (typically 20 – 25 mph, varies by state).

    Except for Freeways, most bicycles are legal on any and all surface streets and roads. As a matter of fact, the bicycle club I sometimes ride with told me (while we were riding in Fort Worth) that the City of Fort Worth has a prohibition on bicycles being ridden on the sidewalks. That forces cyclists to ride on city streets in areas where bike lanes are nonexistent.

    In my opinion, the root of the problem is selfishness. Most people put themselves first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth, reserving seventh place and lower (in order of importance) for their friends and family, then 100th place and lower for everyone else. “I have the right to use this road and no one is to get in my way! I will drive MY vehicle the way I see fit and NO ONE can tell ME otherwise. I’m more important than anyone else. MY vehicle is the most important vehicle on the road. MY schedule is more important than anyone else’s. MY text message is of utmost importance, so I can text while driving. ME, ME, ME!” Selfishness, plain and simple. Selfish. Self-centered. It looks like so many people these days were dragged up instead of brought up. Traffic would flow so much more smoothly and there would be such a reduction in road rage (and collisions) if people would be just a little more considerate of other road users.

    Many cities in the Dallas/Ft. Worth greater metropolitan area (“Metroplex” as locals call it) have laws stating that bicycles may occupy an entire traffic lane.

    As someone who has driven all types of motor vehicle smaller than a Tractor-trailer semi-truck (18-wheeler), and have driven across three different countries (even crossing two different international borders in one weekend), and as someone who has been riding bicycles both on and off-road for more than three decades and in several different countries, I can say that motor vehicle drivers need to show more respect to the more vulnerable cyclists who have the same rights to use the public streets and roads that motor vehicles are privileged to use. Yes, I typed a run-on sentence. Don’t lynch me. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Just because a few bone-headed cyclists disregard laws intended for the safety of all road users, that doesn’t give drivers the right to pass cyclists with a quarter inch (6 mm) of space between the side mirror and the cyclist (or worse). Show some courtesy. Show some concern.

    Drivers better take note… More and more cyclists are bolting video cameras to their bikes to record their bike rides. There are both purpose-built sports/action cameras and cellphone cameras now capable of recording video in 1080p HD. If you don’t want your face, vehicle, and license plate in a video sent to law-enforcement and/or uploaded to YouTube, drivers better drive with more care.

    On a personal note, I was running an errand on my bicycle one Monday night (earlier this year) when I witnessed a horrific traffic accident involving two pickup trucks. Having been trained in First Aid, I rode over to check for injuries. Other passers-by had beat me to the first vehicle and were already doing everything right, so I rode over to the second vehicle to check on the other driver. The second driver did not need any immediate medical help. I try to be courteous to all road users whether I’m driving, riding, or walking. I have even changed some things about my driving habits because of things I’ve seen while on two wheels. Maybe everyone should be forced to ride a bicycle for a week before they can renew their driver’s license (might not be completely practical). Seeing things from the other side can be so enlightening.

    Be careful and courteous out there on the roads. The life you save might be your own.

  17. Brian

    Canada definitely needs this law. While riding, I’ve been passed like I’m totally invisible and it’s during the day. They tailgate too. If we want fewer cars on the road and less pollution, we have to do our part to make cycling safer. Bullying cyclists can be short sighted. In less bike and walk friendly cities, people may have to drive even when the distance is short such as school and shopping. Unfortunately, it means heavier and more dangerous traffic.

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