The state legislatures in Wyoming and South Dakota passed laws this year that require motorists to give bicyclists at least three feet of space when passing. The governors have signed those laws and they’ll go into effect later in 2015.
The success in those states will bring to 26 the number of states (and the District of Columbia) where bicyclists get at least a three-foot gap when they’re passed by cars and trucks. Pennsylvania requires four feet of space.
Bills are still pending in at least four other states.
A five-foot passing law passed the Alabama Senate this year, but is currently stalled in the House. Three bills in Indiana — two in the House and one in the Senate — are all assigned to committee. A bill in Massachusetts that defines a safe passing distance as at least 3 feet is also in committee. HB 2459 in Texas also requires 3 feet of space. [For those of you scoring at home, it’s Indiana HB 1233, SB 36 and SB 250; Alabama SB4; Massachusetts H3073; and Texas HB 2459.]
Surpassing the half-way point marks a big gain for bicycle advocates. Supporters say the 3-foot gap gives a level of safety to bicyclists who are riding on the road and gives them a margin to swerve around road debris.
Opponents often point out that the laws are impossible to enforce. Actually, they’re probably more worried that the laws will be enforced, as has been shown in Austin, which passed its own safe-passing law.
Of course, the devil is in the details.
The Wyoming law, House Bill 85, requires the 3-foot passing gap “when space allows” and if the bicycle is “operating lawfully.” Also, there are no fines for violations in the law, which goes into effect July 1.
The South Dakota law, House Bill 1030, also stipulates the 3-foot gap and allows a motorist to partially cross a highway centerline to maintain that gap. A violation is a Class 2 misdemeanor.
The South Dakota law also requires that bicyclists signal a left or right turn for at least 100 feet before the turn. They can signal intermittently if they need a hand to steer. Also, bicyclists are prohibited from overtaking on the right a motor vehicle signalling for a right turn.
The 26 state that require at least a 3-foot passing gap are: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania (4 feet), South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
Washington DC also requires a 3-foot passing gap.
Bicycle advocates in other states are claiming victories during the legislative sessions.
In Washington state, the state legislature passed the so-called Dead Red Bill. It allows bicyclists to make left turns at traffic signals that don’t detect their presence. A similar law passed in 2014 only applied to motorcycles. More at Washington Bikes! blog.
In California, the California Bicycle Coalition convinced a legislator to remove a bill that would have mandated all bicyclists to wear helmets when riding. The group maintained that the law would discourage people from riding and would be enforced inequitably.
In Texas, a bill that would have prohibited state funds from being spent to convert any existing general-use traffic lane into a bike, bus, or other special purpose lane was withdrawn. BikeTexas tells more about this victory.