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Thread: Three foot rule

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    Senior Member asmac's Avatar
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    Three foot rule

    Is there a standard definition of what constitutes three feet clearance?

    Is it from the furthest point of the bike to the closest point of the vehicle -- i.e. bike mirror edge to car mirror edge -- or my elbow to car mirror edge or my elbow to car fender?

    It can make quite a difference and was wondering if this has been stated.

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    Senior Member dynodonn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by asmac View Post
    Is there a standard definition of what constitutes three feet clearance?

    Is it from the furthest point of the bike to the closest point of the vehicle -- i.e. bike mirror edge to car mirror edge -- or my elbow to car mirror edge or my elbow to car fender?

    It can make quite a difference and was wondering if this has been stated.
    My state's 3 ft law, that takes effect in 2 months, states:

    "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."

    But there is also another clause in the law that states:

    "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."

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    Michigan is working on the law. At this point it looks as if they are trying to work out the verbal definition but here is what is on the LMB website.

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    Three foot rules don't apply to most of us, because we only have two feet.
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    I find the how ever many feet laws humorous... Don't get me wrong, I love any law thats makes riding safer for us... though these laws actually contradict other laws, such as not crossing the yellow line. Around where I live, motorists have been cited for that in cases of accidents involving cyclists... because according to that law, they can not pass us at all except in passing zones. It is only enforced though if an accident happens or if an officer actually spots a vehicle passing a cyclist in a dangerous manner (such as when there is oncoming traffic). Of course when someone is cited for that, next time, they do not cross the yellow line, and just pass way to close to the cyclists... because they certainly will not slow down and wait.

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    Three foot passing rule in Maine was also passed with a few other cycling safety laws, including one which allows cars to cross a double yellow no-passing line when safe to do so.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Vexxer View Post
    I find the how ever many feet laws humorous... Don't get me wrong, I love any law thats makes riding safer for us... though these laws actually contradict other laws, such as not crossing the yellow line. Around where I live, motorists have been cited for that in cases of accidents involving cyclists... because according to that law, they can not pass us at all except in passing zones. It is only enforced though if an accident happens or if an officer actually spots a vehicle passing a cyclist in a dangerous manner (such as when there is oncoming traffic). Of course when someone is cited for that, next time, they do not cross the yellow line, and just pass way to close to the cyclists... because they certainly will not slow down and wait.
    Far too many motorists think they should pass closely to avoid going over the center line, which is why I ride in the center of a lane that is not wide enough for them to pass me safely while remaining fully in the lane. That gives overtaking motorists the choice of going over the center line (legal in OR under many circumstances), waiting until an opportunity arises to pass (hey, I'll use a pull-out or other convenient wide spot to assist polite motorists along their way), or just committing cold-blooded murder.

    I don't run into too many folks who will flat-out run someone over on purpose. When I encounter a homicidal maniac, it doesn't really matter where I am; if they are intent on hitting me, any lane position is equally vulnerable.

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    Maryland just says three feet. It doesn't go into the particulars of the proximity of a vehicle mirror to the most left point on a bike.

    I was in fact on a two-lane blacktop this afternoon. Going 20-25mph in a 20-30mph zone. When some jerk thought about crossing the double-yellow line while approaching a small curve with a blind hill. I immediately went out to the double-yellow line. Because I wasn't going to allow myself to become collateral damage for their stupidity. When they would have tried to avoid the on-coming traffic.

    What gives them license to be stupid because they don't want to be behind a cyclist going the speed limit. But, Despite being annoyed, at a slow motorist. They would have no problem waiting and/or, passing safely.

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    Most of these laws speak about clearance in one form or another, so we're not talking center to center distances (which would be a collision in most car&bike cases). So it's 3' gap between the biker and rider.

    Do mirrors count? or the blowing streamers in a kid's handlebars? doesn't matter because it's too late to get out a yardstick and measure to the inch. OTOH, no one is going to quibble if a car passes with only 2'6" clearance either. It's a guideline, not a provable/actionable hard line number.
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    That would never work here in Georgia....most of us only have two feet.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Schwinnhund View Post
    That would never work here in Georgia....most of us only have two feet.
    Too late. I already said that joke in Post #4 .
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    Quote Originally Posted by tractorlegs View Post
    Too late. I already said that joke in Post #4 .
    Perhaps, but do you have 12 toes?

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    Quote Originally Posted by asmac View Post
    Perhaps, but do you have 12 toes?
    Fifteen.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vexxer View Post
    I find the how ever many feet laws humorous... Don't get me wrong, I love any law thats makes riding safer for us... though these laws actually contradict other laws, such as not crossing the yellow line. Around where I live, motorists have been cited for that in cases of accidents involving cyclists... because according to that law, they can not pass us at all except in passing zones. It is only enforced though if an accident happens or if an officer actually spots a vehicle passing a cyclist in a dangerous manner (such as when there is oncoming traffic). Of course when someone is cited for that, next time, they do not cross the yellow line, and just pass way to close to the cyclists... because they certainly will not slow down and wait.
    In Ohio, the law states that you can pass a slow moving vehicle in a no passing zone if it is safe to do so, can see that there is no approaching traffic etc. Of course many drivers don't know of this exception.

    We don't have a statewide three foot passing law, there is one locally in Cincinnati. I don't think they define where the three feet start.

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    Senior Member dynodonn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tractorlegs View Post
    Fifteen.
    Sounds like you would be better at math than me.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris516 View Post
    Maryland just says three feet. It doesn't go into the particulars of the proximity of a vehicle mirror to the most left point on a bike.

    I was in fact on a two-lane blacktop this afternoon. Going 20-25mph in a 20-30mph zone. When some jerk thought about crossing the double-yellow line while approaching a small curve with a blind hill. I immediately went out to the double-yellow line. Because I wasn't going to allow myself to become collateral damage for their stupidity. When they would have tried to avoid the on-coming traffic.

    What gives them license to be stupid because they don't want to be behind a cyclist going the speed limit. But, Despite being annoyed, at a slow motorist. They would have no problem waiting and/or, passing safely.
    Probably the same authority that gives cyclists license to play traffic control.

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    Brilliant minds think alike......

    Quote Originally Posted by tractorlegs View Post
    Too late. I already said that joke in Post #4 .

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris516 View Post
    I was in fact on a two-lane blacktop this afternoon. Going 20-25mph in a 20-30mph zone. When some jerk thought about crossing the double-yellow line while approaching a small curve with a blind hill. I immediately went out to the double-yellow line. Because I wasn't going to allow myself to become collateral damage for their stupidity. When they would have tried to avoid the on-coming traffic.
    You showed them!

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    Quote Originally Posted by dynodonn View Post
    My state's 3 ft law, that takes effect in 2 months, states:

    "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."

    But there is also another clause in the law that states:

    "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."
    Has there been much discussion of that exception, Dynodonn? To my untrained eye it looks like it would make the basic law all but unenforceable. Effectively "3 feet mandatory... ...except when there's not enough room".

    I guess you can claim it was prima facie violated if they hit you, but that's not much comfort. If conditions prevent giving ~3 feet, surely preferable that motorized traffic waits until conditions do permit ~3 feet.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Earl Grey View Post
    Has there been much discussion of that exception, Dynodonn? To my untrained eye it looks like it would make the basic law all but unenforceable. Effectively "3 feet mandatory... ...except when there's not enough room".

    I guess you can claim it was prima facie violated if they hit you, but that's not much comfort. If conditions prevent giving ~3 feet, surely preferable that motorized traffic waits until conditions do permit ~3 feet.
    All traffic codes are intended to promote both safety and efficient movement. If a 3' law were strictly enforced in many urban areas, all traffic would slow to the speed of the slowest bicycle. Here in the NYC area, close passes are the norm but not a problem when speeds are reasonable (speed differences also). Cyclists routinely pass autos with less than 3' so obviously we're comfortable with less distance when conditions permit. No problem for me if it's the reverse, IF it's done reasonable and safely.

    IMO the 3' is only a guideline, and shouldn't be used to replace common sense, or ability to adjust to conditions. For example, while 3' may be very adequate for passing a 15mph cyclist who can hold a straight line at 30mph, it can be very inadequate if the cyclist has less steering control, or if passing at 50mph or more. Anyone who's been passed by a large truck moving at 55mph+ knows that the wedge of air off the front can blow you off the road if you're not ready.
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    Yes, I guess that's fair enough in truly cramped urban areas (though speeds there may not be much higher than cycle speed, if at all).

    My problem with that wording is that it seems so broad that it applies pretty much any time a driver may feel tempted to close-pass (short of malicious 'buzzing'). For example, if an opposite-direction truck doesn't permit 3' on a 55mph two-lane, that language might give an impatient driver a pass on not waiting 10 extra seconds - as long as their speed is deemed 'reasonable'.

    A restriction of the exemption to areas where speed limits are 35mph or less would go a long way, IMHO.

    In the IL code there's no exemption to 3' (although, yes, I'm sure it's widely flouted in rush-hour Chicago). Bikes are explicitly exempted from FRAP when conditions or road width prevent safe lane-splitting. So I guess the IL legislature has effectively said that it's cool with traffic slowing "to the speed of the slowest bicycle".

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    Quote Originally Posted by FBinNY View Post
    All traffic codes are intended to promote both safety and efficient movement. If a 3' law were strictly enforced in many urban areas, all traffic would slow to the speed of the slowest bicycle. Here in the NYC area, close passes are the norm but not a problem when speeds are reasonable (speed differences also). Cyclists routinely pass autos with less than 3' so obviously we're comfortable with less distance when conditions permit. No problem for me if it's the reverse, IF it's done reasonable and safely.

    IMO the 3' is only a guideline, and shouldn't be used to replace common sense, or ability to adjust to conditions. For example, while 3' may be very adequate for passing a 15mph cyclist who can hold a straight line at 30mph, it can be very inadequate if the cyclist has less steering control, or if passing at 50mph or more. Anyone who's been passed by a large truck moving at 55mph+ knows that the wedge of air off the front can blow you off the road if you're not ready.
    Don't forget the backside vacuum that can pull you into those rear wheels.

    I must admit to enjoying that aspect of big rigs when my commute used to involve four miles of freeway over a causeway, but the eleven foot shoulder gave me lots of space. Tailwinds both directions, what's not to like?

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    Quote Originally Posted by B. Carfree View Post
    Don't forget the backside vacuum that can pull you into those rear wheels.

    I must admit to enjoying that aspect of big rigs when my commute used to involve four miles of freeway over a causeway, but the eleven foot shoulder gave me lots of space. Tailwinds both directions, what's not to like?

    You haven't lived till you've been passed by logging trucks doing 60 on narrow 2 lanes. First the frontal wedge pushes you toward the burm, then the mirror passes above your head (phew), then as you recover from front air blast you get to feel the overhanging load pass inches from your head, and still have to make sure that your recovery doesn't take you under the rear wheels. Finally it's past, and the vacuum pulls you into center lane right in front of his partner driving a similar load.


    It's a thrill a minute, but you do learn bicycle handling, and after a few of these develop nerves of steel that make cycling anywhere seem so tame you could fall asleep.

    Seriously my objection to the 3' rules is twofold.

    1- even when described as a minimum distance, in the minds of many this becomes an adequate distance regardless of conditions.

    2- laws don't change anything, especially ones as unenforceable as the 3' rule. Yes, a few motorists might see fines, and it can help establish responsibility in a passing crash, but we already had that under old established law. We don't need laws, we need driver education and awareness. If they replaced those useless Click it or ticket PSAs with useful driver education including how to share the road with cyclists we'd all be better off.

    I was in France some years back, and was impressed with the number and diversity of driver education broadcast, covering topics like yielding, passing on narrow mtn roads, managing skids, use of lights when passing, use of lights in places like Paris where headlights are turned off, lights in tunnels, and so on. Back then there was nothing bike related, but this was many years back, and I suspect bikes were below radar.
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    I think 1) is a failure of education and advocacy, rather than a problem with the law per se. Although I agree it's a potential problem.

    Not sure I can completely buy 2). Even if not one ticket is ever issued, my understanding - and IANAL - is that the existence of the unambiguous 3' statute (vs a subjective 'safe passing' rule) can make a big difference in easily obtaining civil settlements.

    The passing of a 3' law is presumably itself of awareness / education benefit. Could you get the same without the statute? Maybe. I appreciate that some people have political problems with the passing of laws for 'message' more than 'enforcement' purposes.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Earl Grey View Post
    I think 1) is a failure of education and advocacy, rather than a problem with the law per se. Although I agree it's a potential problem.


    The passing of a 3' law is presumably itself of awareness / education benefit. Could you get the same without the statute? Maybe. I appreciate that some people have political problems with the passing of laws for 'message' more than 'enforcement' purposes.
    Passing laws without a serious effort at creating public awareness is poor government. It doesn't create change and creates a catch whereby folks who have no way of knowing the law (the public can't be expected to be psychic) get caught by it. While people might point out that "ignorance of the law is no excuse" it is a valid excuse if someone can't reasonably be expected to know the law. I successfully defended a moving violation based on failure to notify.

    Most states (all?) already give the right of way to the vehicle being passed, and charge the passing vehicle with the responsibility to do it safely. We don't need a black and white law defining a distance, we have to educate drivers HOW to pass a bicycle safely.

    For the record, other than a general opposition to unnecessary and duplicative laws and rules, I have no objection to 3' laws. But I don't believe they'll change anything without a serious education campaign, and with a good campaign, the law is unnecessary.
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