Undercover police officers in Birmingham, England, posing as cyclists, caught a trucker who has becomes one of first motorists in Britain to be prosecuted under a new law for driving too close to a bicycle.
In several American states, recent laws have mandated a minimum gap of just three feet when a motor vehicle is passing a person riding a bicycle but other countries have laws requiring a 1.5 metre gap — in other words 36 inches in the USA versus 59 inches in other countries… 62 percent more safety space.
Will having just three feet of space be acceptable? It is surely obvious that having a large vehicle, maybe even something as big as a semi-tractor-trailer whizzing past just three feet away will at the very least be unnerving, and given the buffeting of the air that can be created by a large vehicle, it’s not hard to conclude that it could be risky, too. And then there’s the question of what happens when a driver is incapable of accurately judging a gap of three feet. There is clearly and indeed most literally not much room for error.
And the second question is: How exactly is this law going to be actively enforced in the states in question? Or should the question be: IS this law going to be actively enforced in the states in question?
One thing is for certain, and that is that I am very curious about how the gap is going to be measured, from one state (or country) to another,
“Not too long ago, I was riding my bicycle near the corner of 9th and Carpenter behind a motor vehicle, which was behind another motor vehicle, which was behind a bus. No one was moving very fast, as is often the case on South Philadelphia’s narrow streets. But that didn’t matter to the middle-aged man in the pickup truck behind me. Flustered and in a red-faced rage, he incorrectly told me I was legally required to get out of his way. Ignoring him at first, I turned my head only when he threatened to violently run me over with his vehicle. I pointed to the car in front of me, and the one in front of that car. “No one’s going anywhere fast,” I said with a shrug. But that only made him angrier. “I don’t care,” he yelled out the driver’s side window. “I’ll run you down!” Sound familiar? If you’re a person who rides a bike, it probably does…”
“…[Bad] situations occur because people on bicycles and motor vehicle users are expected to share city streets. And while people on bicycles make mistakes, too, their mistakes don’t have the same potential to hurt other road users like that of a guy in a pick up truck who thinks he’d get to his endpoint two minutes faster if the bicyclist were out of the way…”
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.
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?