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.
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.