I often see signs and bumper stickers telling me to “Share the Road” and “Look Twice, Save a Life,” both of which are typically reminding drivers to look out for motorcycles on the road. It’s not very often that I am blasted with advertising about good old fashioned pedal bicycle safety when I’m driving. Sure, lots of places have designated bike lanes, but the awareness and safety aspect is far less when it comes to riding your Schwinn versus your Harley.
As of September 26 of this year, Michigan now has a three feet bicycle passing law, which requires drivers of vehicles to maintain a minimum of three feet of distance between their vehicle and the bicycle that they are passing on the road. Specifically, the law reads:
The driver of a vehicle overtaking a bicycle proceeding in the same direction shall, when otherwise permitted by this section, pass at a distance of 3 feet to the right of that bicycle or, if it is impracticable to pass the bicycle at a distance of 3 feet to the right, at a safe distance to the right of that bicycle at a safe speed. MI House Bill No. 4265.
I doubt many of us recall everything we learned when we first received our driver’s permit or license; my most tangible memory is that my instructor continuously ate sugar free mints (don’t worry, I have a good driving record anyways). Beginning in 2019, driver’s education will include at least an hour of instruction on pedestrian, motorcycle and bicycle laws in the state of Michigan. Violations of the law are treated as civil infractions.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the vast majority of states have similar three feet passing laws for bicycles, although North Carolina allows two feet, while Pennsylvania provides for four feet of space. South Dakota requires three feet if the speed limit is 35 mph or less, but it increases to six feet for roads that have speed limits over 35 mph. Some states require you to completely change lanes if the road has two lanes in the same direction.
It may be hard to judge a distance of three feet when driving, and I plan on continuing to give bicyclists as much space as possible when passing. Considering that I’ve got two children who love to ride their bicycles (streamers, bells and baskets included), I’m pretty happy the law is catching up to the safety of bicyclists on the road.