We’re all familiar with Florida’s 3 foot rule for a vehicle passing a cyclist. I think most drivers who are aware of the law act as though 3 feet is the maximum, not the minimum. I came across an article in the Austin American-Statesman August 8, 2013, discussing a 2009 ordinance the city of Austin, Texas enacted to protect cyclists. I found it interesting for two significant reasons. The first is that it applies to “vulnerable road users” which includes bicyclists, pedestrians and construction workers. Second, their ordinance requires a motorist to allow at least 3 feet of clearance when passing a vulnerable road user, but requires at least 6 feet when the vehicle is a heavy truck. That is a good idea!
The article went on to discuss a traffic enforcement initiative by the Austin Police Department. They put officers on bicycles on the road equipped with GoPro video cameras. They radioed nearby patrol cruisers when someone passed them in violation of the minimum passing distance.
I applaud Austin for this traffic enforcement and education effort. While they’ve issued about 165 citations since they began the program, they have also gathered quite a bit of publicity which helps educate the public about minimum passing distances for cyclists and other vulnerable users.
The writer of the article rode along and quoted people who were given citations on the day the reporter was present. The reasons given by motorists for passing too closely are interesting:
- Most people say they didn’t know the law.
- Others admitted they knew the law, but didn’t realize they were passing so closely.
- One driver admitted knowing the law but said he didn’t see the cyclist until the last minute.
- One driver said when there’s not enough room, it’s going to be the driver or the cyclist (Now that’s scary!).
I have been a proponent of a “vulnerable user law” for quite some time. The 6 foot passing rule for large heavy vehicles is another great idea that should be seriously pursued here in Florida, as well. It should also be applied to buses and municipal trolleys.
Jim Dodson is an avid cyclist and cycling safety advocate. He is the author of the Florida Bicycle Accident Handbook.