Monday News Roundup: State Senators to Announce Ohio 3-foot Passing Bill

From Consider Biking:

Senators Teresa Fedor and Mark Wagoner to Announce Biking Safety Bill

Columbus, Ohio — Senators Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo) and Mark Wagoner (R-Ottawa Hills) will announce the introduction of a biking safety bill September 28, 2009 at 10:30 AM on the west lawn of the Statehouse. The legislation will define a safe lateral passing distance of three feet when a motor vehicle passes a bicycle or other non-motorized vehicle. The Ohio Bicycle Federation President, Chuck Smith, will be in attendance to speak in support of the legislation. Local riders and those injured by the failure of drivers to observe a safe passing distance will also be in attendance.

“Cyclists often do not feel safe riding in their neighborhoods or to work because of unsafe distances between cars. We must make Ohio streets safer for our over one million cyclists,” said Senator Fedor.

Senator Fedor, joined by Senator Wagoner for part of the journey, completed her 3rd Annual Bike to the Capitol tour during Bike to Work Week. The ride reinforced the need for bike-friendly communities and safer roads for those who use bicycling as an alternative mode of transportation. The tour took Senator Fedor from Toledo to Columbus over a 3-day period on a “Campaign for Healthy Kids and Communities”. The event was geared toward raising awareness about quality physical and health education standards in schools, alternative means of transportation and bicycle-friendly communities.

I'm torn on this legislation. On one hand, it's great to see our government taking an interest in safety over speed for a change. And forcing cars to keep three feet away while passing is a wonderful way to do so. I admire the heck out of Senators Fedor and Wagoner for their efforts to make our streets safer for all operators.

But... let's be honest here. Is three feet enough? Most cars pass me with 4 or 5 feet clearance already, and three feet feels pretty close. Controlling the lane helps me to push cars over the lane dividing line if they want to pass, and in such cases three feet would seem like I was being crowded.

And is anyone actually going to enforce this? If I went up to a police officer with a car's license plate number and told them that I thought they were disobeying the three foot law, how am I going to prove it?

This seems more like a feel-good law than anything that has any sort of real power.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. If we really want to do something to make motorists respect the space around cyclists, we'll enact a law that emulates the 5th Motorist Directive from the EU, and place the burden of legal and insurance responsibility for safety on the operators of the most dangerous vehicles - the cars.

My friend CycleDog said it best: cars are weapons. You need a license to drive a car, you need a license to own a gun. And if you were to blindly fire a gun and accidentally hit someone that you didn't see, would "I didn't see them!" be a defense or an admission of guilt? There's no difference here than driving a car, and the responsibility for safety NEEDS to fall to the operators of the vehicles that are doing all the damage.

People, not speed.


  1. The battle for space between cyclists and motorists is intensifying--worldwide. Across the world cyclists share a fundamental need for space and 3 feet seems to be the universal minimum needed to ride a bike safely. Of course, more space is always better and appreciated but, 3 feet will allow for the safe passing of a cyclist by a motor vehicle. Moreover, "3 feet" gives meaning to the whole "share the road" mantra by giving motorists a clear and understandable frame of reference...3 feet.

    I think most cyclists will agree when I say that most motorists are courteous and respectful of our need for space. But there are a large number of motorists who just don’t get it. They don’t get the fear that sweeps over us as they pass within inches of our bodies. And they don’t get how hitting us would change lives---theirs, ours and our families. Their unyielding, sometimes malevolent, carelessness to the safety of cyclists is why we need 3 foot laws.

    It is important to point out that cyclists can solve the majority of their own problems by riding visibly and predictably. Unfortunately, there are some cyclists who also don't get it. We need to educate them and hold them accountable as well. But for the great majority of cyclists who follow the rules and seek to coexist with motorized vehicles there must be greater enforcement of the laws against potentially lethal driving and greater public awareness campaigns.

    I commend Senators Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo)and Mark Wagoner (R-Ottawa Hills) for introducing the bill. It’s my hope that Ohio will join the other 15 states that have made the "3 foot clearance" language law and will use it as a tool to educate motorists on the need to give cyclists space when passing from the rear.

    Look, the question is simple: can the law help reduce the number of cyclists being injured or worse, killed? If the answer is yes, then you know what to do. And I assure you the answer is "yes".

    And when the time comes to act I hope Ohioans do the right thing and are not swayed by those who claim that this will be just a "feel good" and unenforceable law. If we can get motorists to give cyclists at least 3 feet clearance when passing and do this by using the law as an educational tool, that will be something we can all feel good about.

    Make it law Ohio and start saving cyclists' lives.

    Thank you,
    Joe Mizereck

    PS And for those who think it won't be enforceable...hogwash. Just look at what the Florida State University Police Dept. did a few weeks ago with an experiment to see how it could be done: No tickets issued...pure education.

  2. Joe - I don't disagree with almost anything you've said here. The law would set a firm 3 feet, like you said, and give drivers a frame of reference.

    But I don't believe that it's enforceable, nor will it be enforced, without strict oversight of the police and a serious change in their priorities. Most police still believe that it's better to have EVERYONE speeding and keep traffic moving than to have someone try to obey the law and slow everyone else down. And the same sort of attitude shows up when it comes to cyclists and laws that surround them.

    There are already cycling laws on the books that the police don't enforce, or don't even know. Bob Mionske's recent article shows that clearly.

    And frankly, I don't understand what that FSU experiment is going to do other than teach the four people who he did stop that the law does exist. Is he going to do that every day? Is he instructing his officers to enforce that law strictly and how to do it? Is he going to give every cyclist in his jurisdiction some sort of way to record the distance away from them each car passes?

    I hate to be cynical about this, as I would obviously like to see more measures taken to ensure the safety of all road users, regardless of speed. And on the surface, a three-foot law seems like a great idea, and I hope they pass it. Maybe someone can figure out a way to enforce it and prove to the police that they were passed too closely.

    But really, all that needs to happen is that the police need to enforce the existing traffic codes (at least in Columbus) and we'd be fine. That'd be a great start.

  3. Jamie,
    Agreed on all counts. If nothing else, at least the law will get media attention and raise public awareness of the need to pass cyclists safely.

  4. Agree. Largely non-enforceable and mostly feel good. It's good that legislators are looking at cyclists as a real constituency right now.

    That said, we shouldn't need a law like this, it should be common sense and common courtesy.


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