Update: Dec. 26, 2016 — Thirty states and the District of Columbia require that motorists give bicyclists at least 3 feet of clearance when passing in most cases.
Ohio became the latest state to join the list after Gov. John Kasich signed HB 154 into law on Dec. 19, 2016. That law says that when a motor vehicle is passing a bicycle, “three feet or greater is considered a safe passing distance.”
The Ohio Bicycle Federation has had the 3-foot law in its sights for seven years. In its final hurdle, it won in the state Senate by a vote of 30-1. It goes into effect in 90 days.
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.
More than 3 feet
While most states on the list require a 3-foot passing distance, a few require more.
Pennsylvania requires a 4-foot minimum passing distance. South Dakota requires 3 feet, unless the motor vehicle’s speed is 35 mph or greater, in which case the passing distance is 6 feet. North Carolina requires 2 feet, unless it’s a no-pass zone, in which case 4 feet is required.
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 30 states with 3-foot (or more) laws are: Arizona, Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania (4 feet), South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
Washington DC also requires a 3-foot passing gap.
The state of Washington requires that motorcycles give bicyclists 3 feet of space when passing in the same lane. The requirement was added as an amendment to SB 5263 in 2013, which sought to require motorcyclists to change lanes before passing other motor vehicles, but not when passing bicyclists. The amendment suggested by Washington Bikes is the first 3-foot requirement in the state and advocates consider it a foundation to expanding to all motor vehicles in the future.
See links below.
At least five recommend 3 feet in driver’s manuals; four require a safe distance without specifications.
3-foot (or more) buffer zone states
Alabama When a motor vehicle overtakes and passes a bicycle, “a safe distance shall mean not less than 3 feet of any of the following; (a) A roadway that has a marked bike lane. (b) A roadway without a marked bike lane if the roadway has a marked speed limit of 45 mph or less and the roadway does not have a double yellow line separating cars from oncoming traffic indicating a no passing zone.” Only applies “when a cyclist is riding within 2 feet of the right shoulder of the roadway.” Enacted in 2015
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. (Effective 2014)
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)
Delaware: The driver of a motor vehicle, when approaching a bicyclist traveling in the same direction, shall ensure the safety and protection of the bicyclist by: b. Proceeding with caution and reducing the speed of the vehicle to a safe speed and leaving a reasonable and prudent distance by providing a minimum of 3 feet of clearance while passing such bicyclist, if changing lanes would be impossible or unsafe.
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.
Minnesota: ” … shall leave a safe distance, but in no case less than three feet clearance, when passing the bicycle or individual …” Enacted 2004.
Mississippi: Requires 3 feet when passing, and forbids throwing objects at bicyclists from cars. Enacted 2010.
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)
North Carolina: The prohibition in this section shall not apply when the overtaking and passing is done in accordance with all of the following: (1) The slower moving vehicle to be passed is a bicycle or a moped. (2) The slower moving vehicle is proceeding in the same direction as the faster moving vehicle. (3) The driver of the faster moving vehicle either (i) provides a minimum of four feet between the faster moving vehicle and the slower moving vehicle or (ii) completely enters the left lane of the highway. (4) The operator of the slower moving vehicle is not (i) making a left turn or (ii) signaling in accordance with G.S. 20-154 that he or she intends to make a left turn. (5) The driver of the faster moving vehicle complies with all other applicable requirements set forth in this section. Enacted in 2016
Ohio: HB 154 – “… When a motor vehicle or trackless trolley overtakes and passes a bicycle, three feet or greater is considered a safe passing distance.” Enacted 2016.
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.
South Dakota: House Bill 1030 stipulated a 3-foot gap and allows a motorist to partially cross a highway centerline to maintain that gap (… 6 feet is speed is greater than 35 mph). A violation is a Class 2 misdemeanor. (Also, bicyclists must signal a left or right turn ahead of time, and are prohibited from passing on the right a motor vehicle signalling a right turn.) Enacted 2015.
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
Virginia: Any driver of any vehicle overtaking a bicycle, electric personal assistive mobility device, electric power-assisted bicycle, moped, animal, or animal-drawn vehicle proceeding in the same direction shall pass at a reasonable speed at least
two feet to the left of the overtaken bicycle, electric personal assistive mobility device, electric power-assisted bicycle, moped, animal, or animal-drawn vehicle and shall not again proceed to the right side of the highwayuntil safely clear of such overtaken bicycle, electric personal assistive mobility device, electric power-assisted bicycle,moped, animal, or animal-drawn vehicle. (Effective 2014)
West Virginia: (2) The driver of a vehicle overtaking a bicycle traveling in the same direction shall pass to the left of the bicycle at a distance of not less than three feet at a careful and reduced speed, and may not again drive to the right side of the roadway until safely clear of the overtaken bicycle. (Effective 2014)
(b) Any person violating the provisions of this section is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof, shall be fined not more than $100; upon a second conviction within one year thereafter, shall be fined not more than $200; and upon a third or subsequent conviction, shall be fined not more than $500.
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.”
Wyoming: 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. Enacted in 2015.
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)
[The state of Washington requires motorcyclists to give bicyclists 3 feet of space when passing them in the same lane — SB 5263. There is no 3-foot minimum passing requirement for motor vehicles.]
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.
Oregon’s Safe Passing Law requires the cars and truck give bicyclists a safe distance. ORS 811.065 defines a safe distance as “a distance that is sufficient to prevent contact with the person operating the bicycle if the person were to fall into the drivers lane of traffic.”