We'd like three feet, please. Enshrined in law.

Georgia's cyclists may soon feel more wind at their backs as drivers give a safer passing distance. This week a bill was introduced in the House that would define the minimum safe passing distance as three feet. We don't expect this bill, if/when it passes, to be a panacea, but we do think it will facilitate enforcement by making the law less subjective ("safe" means different things to different people) and help drivers better understand how to interact with cyclists they pass on the street. Georgia would join 16 other US states that have already defined safe passing minimums of three feet or greater (laws are under consideration in seven additional states).

While overall biking is a pretty safe activity, we do hear about folks who get buzzed and knocked off their bikes, scared, or much worse, seriously injured or killed. Despite what many Georgia cyclists believe, state law makes no specific statements about how cars should pass bicycles. The portion of the code that refers to passing (40-6-42) says only

(1) The driver of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle proceeding in the same direction shall pass to the left thereof at a safe distance and shall not again drive to the right side of the roadway until safely clear of the overtaken vehicle;

...noting of course that bicycles are vehicles under the law. 16 other states have laws that apply a 3 foot safe passing distance for cars passing bicycles, which works as an educational tool for drivers and a standard for enforcement (how close is too close? "I didn't hit him -- he just fell down after I passed").

Based on Georgia numbers from 2004-2006, more than half (55%) of recorded deaths from car vs bicycle crashes occurred when the car and bicycle were traveling in the same direction -- speeds tend to be higher and injuries more severe, highlighting the need for education and enforcement of a safe passing distance.

Georgia is now one of 7 additional states with a proposed 3 foot passing law: HB 988 was introduced in the Georgia House of Representatives by Wendell Willard of Roswell, and we need you to contact your State Representative to make sure it becomes law!

Take Action:

--> Read a fact sheet here - assembled by advocates statewide as part of the new Georgia Bikes Alliance, sister organization to Georgia Bikes!, and this file includes the relevant details that spell out the need for this legislation.

--> Follow this link to find your State Representative. Two clicks later (click the name and then contact website), you should be able to find an email for your representative. Personal contacts of any kind (email, phone call, letter) are far superior to form letters, which is why we are relying on you to take the initiative to reach out.

--> Contact your legislator and ask them to cosponsor HB 988.

Note on enforcement: In 2008 ABC partnered with the Woodstock police on a campaign to education drivers on sharing the road with cyclists. If we'd had this tool it would have made the jobs of law enforcement much easier. Read more here http://bit.ly/enforce.

Comments

3 Feet Law

I am glad that Georgia is hopefully getting on the bandwagon in regards to the 3ft rule. But I am a bit surprised to see states such as Oregon and California on the list of states that currently do not have such a law. With the large bicycling population in Portland OR, San Francisco CA, and Davis CA, I would of thought the law already existed. Humm...

But I did notice something... Florida is listed as one of the states that has already enacted the law, but a 2007 government study I recently read shows that Florida had a fatality rate of 6.52 cyclist per Million population, the highest percentage in the nation. In 2007 they had 119 cyclists fatalities.

Why?? Are cyclists more complacent because of the law? Or is it the high number of tourist that come down for the season and bring their bikes and the unfamiliarity they have on the local roads? Or is it the tourist not used to interacting with cyclists on the road that account for the high numbers? Just made me start wondering about it.

BTW, Georgia had 16 cycling fatalities in 2007; a fatality rate of 1.68 cyclist per Million.

Also check out this site for a cool cycling jersey promoting the 3ft law. - http://www.3feetplease.com/

Sources: http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/810986.PDF

Having had relatives move

Having had relatives move from urban Georgia to suburban and rural Florida several years ago, I can say that in this case they've had more accidents and close calls there than here (and they haven't lived in particularly touristy areas). Speculation on the cause: traffic always seems to be rough when there's a heavy mix of people who have grown up driving elsewhere (and thus developing expectations of how other road users will react that aren't necessarily compatible).

Another factor is likely that Florida has the largest percentage of folks of advanced age of any state (http://www.census.gov/population/projections/PressTab3.xls). (Georgia by comparison is near the bottom.) You thus have a higher likelihood of encountering drivers with visual impairments or increased reaction times.

You also may be seeing a combination of increased bicycle usage (due to weather) in conjunction with less bicycle-friendly infrastructure.

In any case, this seems to be a good example of how the 3 feet law, although good, won't be a silver bullet, and how the "optimal" solution may vary from area to area.

Yes, Florida drivers do have

Yes, Florida drivers do have that reputation!

As for the 3 feet law, I see it a necessary step to clarify existing law (that simply indicates drivers should give a "safe" passing distance) so that we can do more for education and enforcement that will truly improve all of our safety.

That said, many studies have found getting more people riding bikes is the best way to make it safer. It's been called a "virtuous cycle" (I love that phrase). Here's more information: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/09/080903112034.htm