How much space should drivers give when passing bicycles?

Here in the USA, it has become ‘fashionable’ but dangerously inadequate for states to introduce laws requiring drivers to leave only three feet of space when passing a bicyclist.  However, there are many circumstances, typically involving speed and/or the size of the vehicle, when passing that closely would at the very least be frightening for the person on the bicycle and at worst be downright dangerous.

The first bit of advice and legislation needs to be:  If it’s not safe to pass a bicyclist because you can’t leave enough space for genuine safety then be patient and wait behind until it is safe.  Remember, a driver’s convenience and selfish desire not to be delayed must never take priority over other people’s safety, ever!

Secondly, as implied above, the minimum safe passing distance needs to be significantly more than a mere three feet.  As an example, Britain is now formalizing its guidelines, which have always unofficially been around six feet, and is now saying that the absolute minimum gap should be 1.5 meters, but larger where safely possible.

The recommended minimum clearance gap for passing bicyclists in the UK should be the minimum in all countries.  Naturally, in the USA, the vehicle would be passing the bicycle on the other side.

Compare the recommended 36 inches in the USA to the 59 inches in the UK — effectively three feet versus five feet — and then compare the vast difference between actual road safety results between the two countries.  Britain for at least 30 years has typically vied with Sweden each year for who would have the safest roads in any developed country.  The U.S., on the other hand, has always been in the bottom three of the ~30 member nations of the OECD — the group of developed nations that are checked against this standard every year — and has a road death rate over four times greater than the UK and Sweden.  So which countries’ example do you think it might be better to follow?

Read the source article here, from the Gazette Live.

Eddie Wren, CEO & Chief InstructorAdvanced Drivers of North America



Author: EddieWren

Eddie Wren is the CEO and Chief Instructor at Advanced Drivers of North America. His driver safety background is given at:

2 thoughts on “How much space should drivers give when passing bicycles?”

  1. This is a pet peeve of mine since our govt. just made 1 metre the minimum distance. Previously, there was no stated minimum and bicycles were by law allowed to take up a full lane where necessary since they are legally a vehicle and motorists were required to pass with a safe clearence. What was created is a dangerous situation as this article states. The space in my teaching is still to leave the lane occupied by the bicycle and pass it like you would any other vehicle. No partial lane changes allowed. Ironically, our Police are now threatening cyclists if they do not travel next to the curb so as to allow a metre distance so that cars need not deviate to the left at all….so infuriating.

    1. I’m with you on this, Bill. In Britain, the Highway Code shows a photo of a car passing a cyclist which complies with the old but unwritten rule-of-thumb that a driver should leave enough so that if — in extremis — a cyclist were to fall off their bicycle, into the roadway, the car still wouldn’t touch them. That, and **only that** is a truly safe distance, especially if the rider might be unsteady, such as a child, an elderly person, or yes, even a drunk.

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