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  1. #1
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    Safe passing laws, are they effective?

    Today in Ontario, Canada's legislature, a proposed law will be introduced for debate which would require auto drivers to leave a minimum distance when passing cyclists.

    The law will propose different minimum distances depending on the speed of the overtaking vehicle: 3 feet for speeds under 50 km/h (31 mph), 4 feet for speeds between 50 and 80 km/h (50 mph), and 5 feet for speeds exceeding 80 km/h.

    My gut reaction is that this is not likely to be widely enforced and will therefore be ignored. I'm interested in the experience of those who live in jurisdictions with similar laws. Has the introduction of such a law changed the behaviour of drivers where you ride? I'm particularly interested in the experience in Minnesota, Arizona and Wisconsin, which the Arizona Bike Blog says have had these laws for at least 5 years.

    For those who don't have such laws where they ride, do you think such a law would be effective?

  2. #2
    Al noisebeam's Avatar
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    I believe and have experienced that the cyclist can do more to control passing clearance than any law.

    To ramble on...
    The law is only as good as public awareness. Awareness is only as good as publicity and receptiveness. Publicity is only as good as the message, the message can be difficult to convey accurately. The receptiveness is only there if there is a reason to care, there is no reason to care if there is no negative consequence. There is no pre-accident enforcement and therefore no receptiveness.

  3. #3
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    In FL, they have a 3' minimum passing distance. But I very much doubt if any noncyclists know about it. I would bet that most of the police do not know that law. I have great faith in the average person's ignorence.

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    Senior Member Seattle Forrest's Avatar
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    Noisebeam is 100 % right.

    Here in Seattle, we don't have such a law ( that I'm aware of, anyway ), but we do have orange stickers people can put on their car, that say "Give cyclists 3 feet." Those aren't obeyed, either.

    I hate being buzzed ( passed dangerously closely at speed ) and I control the travel lane to avoid it. Drivers don't like this, but they do respect it.

    Like with cell phone driving, it's odd that the law is subject to a popularity contest. No one would ever say "Well, bank robbery isn't really a big deal, and anyway, I really want that money - it's so inconvenient not to have it." Driving laws, though, are rarely enforced - it's like the lottery in reverse to get a ticket for any sort of moving violation. People know that. And the end result is a bazaar on the streets.

  5. #5
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    What Noisebeam said. Education and enforcement are key, neither of which have accompanied a recently implemented ordinance here in Boise requiring 3 feet passing clearance. I have yet to see any evidence of changed behavior among motorists. I suspect that enforcement will be done not preventively but on a post-mortem basis.

    My general rule of thumb: the majority of overtaking motorists will leave me as much space on my left as I leave myself on my right to the edge of the roadway. (This rule does not apply for roads with bike lanes, where they will crowd me if I remain in the bike lane.)

    On roads with wide outside lanes that can be shared, I tend to ride closer to the edge of the roadway, debris conditions permitting. On roads with outside lanes too narrow to share, I tend to ride farther from the edge of the roadway, to let them know they must at least partially leave the lane to pass.

  6. #6
    Al noisebeam's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
    ... we do have orange stickers people can put on their car, that say "Give cyclists 3 feet." Those aren't obeyed, either.
    Or understood even where 3ft passing clearance is the law. For example read paragraph #2:
    http://www.azcentral.com/community/a...afety0414.html

  7. #7
    Senior Member sggoodri's Avatar
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    I think the most likely way for three feet laws to get public awareness is if they accompany an exception to the prohibition against crossing a double yellow line. I believe that making drivers believe that it's legal/legitimate/expected to move into the next lane to pass (when safe) may affect their feelings about the legitimacy of cyclists using lanes where such lane changes are required for safe passing.

    A state representative in NC who is promoting single-file legislation rebuffed a suggestion by a bicycle advocate to include a three-foot passing distance requirement, pointing out that passing a bicyclist at three feet is impossible on the narrow roads in his rural district without crossing the yellow line.

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    Quote Originally Posted by aglauser View Post
    My gut reaction is that this is not likely to be widely enforced and will therefore be ignored.
    Are there any traffic laws on the books here that AREN'T widely ignored?

    Why do we even bother passing laws here?

    Hows that don't drive on the phone law working out? No one even pretends to care.

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    The most I'm hoping for from the 3-feet law is more cyclist content in the Driver's Training Handbook. Right now you could get your license without even knowing what a bicycle looks like.

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    Senior Member dougmc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ghettocruiser View Post
    Hows that don't drive on the phone law working out? No one even pretends to care.
    For starters, there isn't such a law in many places. For example, Texas made it illegal to use a cell phone in a school zone during the hours it's in effect, but other than that, it's legal.

    Austin banned texting while driving, but went out of their way to not ban making phone calls. (Though they did end up banning using your iPhone as a GPS or even as a music player -- and when asked about it, that seems to have been intentional. Though using a standalone GPS or iPod isn't illegal ...)
    Last edited by dougmc; 05-18-10 at 02:42 PM.

  11. #11
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    I don't see the 3' laws as being enforced, however where I do see benefit is that any time a motorist hits a cyclist while passing, there is an automatic violation with which the motorist can be charged.

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    Has anyone considered adding "passing bars" to their rides? Lets say 3 feet of material that will give? I'm thinking tipped with a magic marker or a key, to get the point across.

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    As other forumers have said, it's only one part of the changes required, most of which are cultural, rather than legal.

    However, with caveats about how well LEOs will remember/understandthe new law and how the courts will apply it, it will provide the prosecution with one small weapon in their armoury, i.e. drivers will have to explain how come, with 3' of room between them and cyclists, they have managed to hit them - apart from those frequent occasions when riders inexplicably swerve violently under their front wheels, that is.

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    Here -suburb of New Orleans-most drivers swing fairly wide-and pass with 5-6 foot margins.
    However, it is a rare day that I don't get a 12" pass.

    How would cops enforce a 3 foot law? How would they measure a pass?
    They would need some sort of gadget to actually prove that the pass was less than 3 feet. A picture, or a video -in many cases- wouldn't be conclusive.
    The cops would need some sort of automated gadget to take a picture, and then attempt to make a measurement from that picture or video.

    Bike lanes are much easier to enforce.

  15. #15
    Seńior Member ItsJustMe's Avatar
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    If you're getting regularly buzzed, put on a flash flag. I don't have the problem, generally people give me an entire lane even if I'm in the right tire track, but if I were getting buzzed, I'd definitely mount a flash flag on my bike.
    Work: the 8 hours that separates bike rides.

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    Controlling passing distance

    I've read several times about how cyclists can control the passing distance, by moving away from the curb.

    In my experience -
    In rural areas (for example, Uvas Road in San Jose), cars will give more room to a bicycle who is keeping right, than a bicycle who is taking the lane. In fact I saw this last weekend. Some bicycles were out, the car in front of me (I was driving) gave a lot of room to the bicycle who was keeping right, but not as much to the one taking the lane. Basically he moved to be just over the double yellow in both cases.

    But it was not dangerous in either case.

    In the city it's not much better. I tried taking the lane in this case:
    Blossom Hill Road near Camden Ave in San Jose. 2 lanes each way plus parking. Speed limit 35, car speed is 30 to 50 mph. Houses on the side of the road. 7 am on a workday so traffic was light. And it was summer, so there was plenty of light, and I was wearing a reflective vest. So I thought I'd give it a try. Pedaling down the middle of the right lane. See a Hummer approaching in my rearview. (yes, sounds like a stereotype, but that's what it was!) Closer... closer.. well he wins if we crash so I'll move right. He passes me, still in the right lane. OK try again, I move back, pedal along, see a Honda SUV approaching... closer... closer.. move right, he passes in the right lane.

    Perhaps they would have moved left if I held my ground, gave the alpha dog stare, whatever. Perhaps not. After going 0 for 2 I keep right now and look for getting doored. Hitting a door at 12 mph has got to be better than getting rear ended at a closing speed of 30 mph.

    I'm sure these comments will be controversial, and I'm sure that other people have had different experiences, but this is what I've had. For these reasons I much prefer a bike lane.

    And to the original question, I don't think the safe passing law makes a difference, not as long as motorists can avoid punishment for killing bicycle riders by saying "I didn't see him." We need a change in traffic laws to have some real consequences for causing injuries and deaths, and publicity. Then people will pay more attention.

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    The value of the "3 foot" laws is that it makes it clear what a sufficient passing distance is. The government can't promote a safe passing distance without having decided what that distance should be. The law is that decision. Clearly, people also need to be informed about it but the law has to be come first.

    (Since it's nearly impossible to enforce, that can't be the intent.)

    It's going to be hard to determine whether it improves things. Maybe, the question is: does it make things worse?

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    Quote Originally Posted by dougmc View Post
    For starters, there isn't such a law in many places. For example, Texas made it illegal to use a cell phone in a school zone during the hours it's in effect, but other than that, it's legal.
    ?

    The OP was referring to driving laws in the Province of Ontario, which has banned the use of hand-held devices since Oct 26 of 2009. After an initial dip in usage due to heavy enforcement, both drivers and police pretty much forgot the law existed, and things have returned to the status quo, as far as I can tell.

  19. #19
    Senior Member rumrunn6's Avatar
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    mass has a 3 ft rule but some folks drive way over and too far into oncoming traffic while others buzz me within a few inches. go figure where "the law" helps. I never of of it until I came to BF. there aren't any drivers who know about.
    cycling is like baseball ~ it doesn't take much to make it interesting

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    Quote Originally Posted by SCROUDS View Post
    Has anyone considered adding "passing bars" to their rides? Lets say 3 feet of material that will give? I'm thinking tipped with a magic marker or a key, to get the point across.
    I have actually considered this. In fact, a friend and I were considering something a bit more disabling to the car's electronics, but we're uncertain of the legality so that is on hold for now.

    Cycling would be so much more enjoyable if the caged baboons would just obey the law, but it would deprive my depraved imagination some of its room to roam.

  21. #21
    Bicikli Huszár sudo bike's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by B. Carfree View Post
    I have actually considered this. In fact, a friend and I were considering something a bit more disabling to the car's electronics, but we're uncertain of the legality so that is on hold for now.

    Cycling would be so much more enjoyable if the caged baboons would just obey the law, but it would deprive my depraved imagination some of its room to roam.
    I've also thought a lot of this, but anything that obviously is meant to cause damage to the car would be a lawsuit waiting to happen, I would think (or a shooting). But I would think anything, even something like nerf that would cause no damage, would encourage a wider pass. After all, they don't know that it won't damage their car, right?

    I was thinking something like a car antennae mounted sideways with an orange flag/foam ball at the tip. I haven't been bold enough to try yet, however.
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    Senior Member Digital_Cowboy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by noisebeam View Post
    I believe and have experienced that the cyclist can do more to control passing clearance than any law.

    To ramble on...
    The law is only as good as public awareness. Awareness is only as good as publicity and receptiveness. Publicity is only as good as the message, the message can be difficult to convey accurately. The receptiveness is only there if there is a reason to care, there is no reason to care if there is no negative consequence. There is no pre-accident enforcement and therefore no receptiveness.
    Noisebeam,

    I agree with you, all of the bicycle safety laws aren't going to do squat IF the general public are not made aware of them, and if law enforcement and the courts are not going to enforce them. If the only one's who know about a law are those whom it is suppose to protect then rally what good is it?

    When they pass a law such as the 3' law they need to also educate not only the general public, but law enforcement and/or the courts as well. Otherwise why pass the law in the first place?
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    Senior Member rumrunn6's Avatar
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    I use a 2nd strobe on my left bar end. I think it helps. my old bike flag used to be quite effective but I felt stupid and switched to strobes.
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    cycling is like baseball ~ it doesn't take much to make it interesting

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by njkayaker View Post
    The value of the "3 foot" laws is that it makes it clear what a sufficient passing distance is. The government can't promote a safe passing distance without having decided what that distance should be. The law is that decision. Clearly, people also need to be informed about it but the law has to be come first.
    Hmm, that is a good point which I hadn't considered. If this law were passed and used as a basis for widespread and ongoing "share the road" education & awareness campaigns, I think that would be great.


    Quote Originally Posted by njkayaker View Post
    (Since it's nearly impossible to enforce, [enforcement] can't be the intent.)

    It's going to be hard to determine whether it improves things. Maybe, the question is: does it make things worse?
    If the law is not enforced, or used as a starting point to improve awareness of cycling, then I think it makes things worse just by adding an extra law. It costs money to enact and adds complexity to the legal code. Given this, I think that new laws make things worse by default, and only come out on the "positive" side if they have some tangible benefit to the public.

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by sauerwald View Post
    I don't see the 3' laws as being enforced, however where I do see benefit is that any time a motorist hits a cyclist while passing, there is an automatic violation with which the motorist can be charged.
    In my opinion, it is more important to focus government resources not on punishing people after the fact, but on preventing the collisions in the first place. I don't honestly believe that people who pass dangerously are thinking "oh well, if I hit him I'm going to get off scott-free anyway". They're just not thinking about the consequences of their actions at all. Case in point, the idiots who give me plenty of room while passing ... just as we approach the crest of a hill.

    My hopes are not high that this law will increase awareness for long, the ban on cel phone use while driving that ghettocruiser referred to is an example of how quickly laws are forgotten/ignored when they are not enforced.

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