[Nothing on this blog should be confused for legal advice. I am not a lawyer, public official, or officer of the law. You, the reader, are liable for your own behavior and knowledge.]

Friday, July 20, 2012

3-foot Passing Laws

How much space do I need to give when passing a cyclist?

In general, a three-foot clearance is considered the bare minimum. Currently, 19 states[1] have laws specifically codifying this, and Pennsylvania even has a four-foot passing law. There are three considerations that come along with this, however, of which motorists should be aware. First, three feet is the minimum. As your speed increases, so should your clearance. Three feet is fine if you're traveling at 25 or 30 miles per hours, but at speeds above 40 or 45 miles per hour, you should probably double that to at least six feet. Second, maintaining this minimum distance is the motorist's responsibility, not the cyclist's. The passing distance should be measured to the left edge of the cyclist's body, not the edge of the road or the shoulder of the road. Just because a cyclist is further into the lane than you might like, you do not have a right to crowd him/her. Third, if you are driving a larger vehicle, like a bus, truck, or semi, you need to yield more distance than a car. Nothing is quite as terrifying as being passed unexpectedly by a huge vehicle in close proximity. Remember, you are driving a vehicle that likely has more than two tons of mass compared to most cyclists and their machines which amount to less than 5% of that.

3 Feet Please is a great resource for those seeking more information on this subject.

[1] Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, and Wisconsin

UPDATE (8/21/12): Here is more data on the varying passing laws from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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