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Some states seem to have something called the 3 foot law to keep cars away from cyclists. Why 3 feet? Which states have it?

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States in what country? –  Daenyth Aug 30 '12 at 19:22
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On top of the states that have it, there are also communities (well, at least one) that have it even if the state does not. I live in Columbia, Missouri and we passed a three foot law a couple years ago even though the state of Missouri doesn't have one. –  jimirings Aug 30 '12 at 21:31
    
Let's get a 3-mile-law: no cars within 3 miles of a bike (except emergency vehicles). Who's with me? –  Jay Bazuzi Aug 31 '12 at 17:38
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A 3 foot law is currently on Gov. Jerry Brown's desk in California. In 2011 he vetoed a similar law. –  Eyal Sep 5 '12 at 6:07
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The CA 3 Foot Law just passed! Bradford's bill, AB1371 will go into effect Sept. 16, 2014. news: mercurynews.com/california/ci_24159945/… legal info: leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/… –  wild_child Sep 24 '13 at 18:01

5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The 3 foot law is an example of a law that exists mostly to create awareness rather than having some direct practical function.

This law is rarely enforced by itself. Can anyone cite an instance where a motorist was ticketed for passing in under three feet (and not ticketed for anything else)? The 3-foot law is, AFAIK, typically enforced as a supplement to some other violation such as failure to yield or reckless driving.

But more than anything else, the intent is to create some level of awareness in motorists about how to deal with cyclists. If motorists know it is a law, most will make an effort to abide by the law.

A quick google search reveals that, as of this year, 20 states in the USA have this law. You can view a map depicting the status of this law in the United States here: http://www.3feetplease.com/advocacy

It seems to me that in the last 10 years or so, motorists have been getting much better than in the past about getting along with bikes. It could be the marked lanes/signage, or perhaps things like the 3-foot law, but I have noticed a LOT LESS "entitlement-to-the-road" behavior from motorists than in the 1990's and earlier.

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France has such a law (1 metre in cities, 1.5 metres in the country). That safety margin is also applicable to passing pedestrians and animals.

France (and, "much of Europe") also has a "strict liability law" (ref and ref), IOW if there's an accident then it's up to the car-driver to prove that they're not negligent.

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Pennsylvania's got a new four-foot law. It was recently enforced after an attempted hit-and-run in Bethlehem, PA (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7AVC1YCcO0). (I should clarify that it was a hit-and-attempted-run, as other motorists pinned the driver in to prevent him from running).

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Five feet seems to be a popular variant of the 3-feet law. I suspect that's because if you tell people five, maybe they will give three. But five has the benefit of making it cleaer that the car needs to partially cross over to the other lane instead of trying to squeeze by without crossing the line.

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However, the law in at least some states explicitly says that if there is sufficient lane width the automobile need not cross out of its lane. –  Daniel R Hicks Aug 28 '12 at 21:03

Three feet just seems (to legislators) like a reasonable number (it's 1 meter in the UK and I think most of Europe). And I know it's the law in Minnesota. Don't know about any other states.

Would a different number make more sense? Probably not. Less would be out-and-out dangerous, and more would create the situation where the bike (in theory) blocks traffic in too many cases (and hence would be ignored even more than the current law).

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Illinois has a 3 foot law as well. 3 feet is a little longer than an average arm length, so it's easy to gauge and seems like a logical mental barrier. Can you touch the car? No? Ok, that's "safe". –  Tha Riddla Aug 28 '12 at 12:17
    
Germany has something like this, too. I am not sure if it is a recommendation or a law, but most people abide it anyway. –  Baarn Aug 28 '12 at 12:17
    
In the UK it's "at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car". –  Tom77 Aug 28 '12 at 12:20
    
Just checked wikipedia, in Germany the "Sicherheitsabstand" (safety distance) is 1.5m (5 feet) to bikes and motorbikes. But only 1m to cars. –  Baarn Aug 28 '12 at 12:21
    
In Ireland 1.5 meters is also recommended on the Road Safety adverts, but it isn't a law as far as I know. youtube.com/watch?v=JB9d-c-M7D0 –  Merri Jul 8 '13 at 21:09

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