June 29, 2018
Despite recent new laws in several American states, which stipulate a three-foot gap as being enough space when passing cyclists, there are multiple circumstances in which passing that closely is both inadequate and dangerous.
One of the key essentials for the safety of cyclists is for drivers to be wise enough to slow down sufficiently, when the situation warrants, and to pass carefully.
Global best practice requires a minimum 1.5-metre gap — effectively five feet — and as an example, a new law is now being enforced in Britain, from today, involving a £100 (US $130) fine and 3 penalty points on the drivers’ licences of offenders who pass closer than this to cyclists.
A major problem in the USA is either ignorance on the part of politicians or of them having other goals which, in their minds, conflict with the perpetual need for greater safety on the nation’s roads. As a result, some cycling organizations, such as the eminently-sensible New York Bicycling Coalition, are currently grateful if they get legislation to support just the inadequate three-foot gap that is currently fashionable here, but this truly is inadequate and therefore unsafe.
As it stands, in America in particular, the issue is, of course, exacerbated when drivers are not very good at judging distances. Where exactly IS three feet away, on the far side of the car? And how much leeway will police officers and judges allow? Will drivers only get a ticket if they actually get closer than say 2’6″? Or 2’0″? And how will it accurately be measured? (Cameras would only work accurately if entirely square to the gap…. and heaven-forbid that cyclists’ lives be made more important that drivers’ “rights” not to have their vehicles photographed even when endangering other people’s lives!)
Any leeway at all and things can get really dangerous. And yet will judges be rigid about the law if it appears the driver was only six inches within the mandated gap? We more than doubt it.
As a young driver, I was taught to always allow for a cyclist at the very least wobbling and at the very worst falling off their bicycle, into my path. If ever we want cycle riders to be significantly safer in the USA — where the death rate for cyclists is absurdly high — it is very important that, among other things, young people need more and better road safety coaching and education, well before they are old enough to drive. The “Share the Road” program needs much greater official support and legislation for a five-foot gap, not three!
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