Opinion divides on whether 3ft enough room to pass

Support for petition grows but some aren’t convinced

by Kevin Emery   October 30, 2009  

3ft Please Jersey UK white van

Since our story on Tom Amos’ petition for the 3 feet to pass law in the UK, it now has 1075 signatures. But it has caused more than a stir with road.cc readers – and some say they can’t support it because the distance ISN’T great enough.

The story has produced a number of interesting comments and, while everyone is in agreement that cyclists should be given more room by passing motorists, most think that three feet is nowhere near enough, as well as being weaker than the current Highway Code, and any law would be tough to enforce.

The Highway Code requires motorists to give cyclists sufficient space but the law does not specify how much that should be. Three feet, or one metre, has been made law in 14 US states and France but as yet there is no such legal protection for UK cyclists.

Thebikeboy posted: “I think having a 3ft law, even it is hard to enforce would make drivers more aware of their responsibilities,” and mr-andrew said: “It should also mean that if they do clip a cyclist, it would probably mean that they were in the wrong, and should hopefully be easier to prosecute.”

TiNuts posted: “In my opinion we desperately need a statutory minimum safe distance for overtaking cyclists in the UK. As it stands, the current legislation is a joke.”

But some thought that the petition did not go far enough. Bike ie posted: “The Highway Code does state that a cyclist should be given the same room as a car, and this can be currently used to judge if someone overtook dangerously. This would be a distance no less than 5 feet. In most of Europe they would say 1.5 metres. I think it is very unfortunate that this campaign has chosen a distance of 3 feet. I cannot sign this petition because I would see at as encouraging motorists to drive closer than they should."

And voujan posted: “Please do not back this campaign. 3 feet is too close. We need to have an education programme for motorists on how to cope with cyclists. If we were to base it on the Highway Code and current European standards we would be warning drivers that they need to leave 5 feet when overtaking cyclists. At the moment 3 feet would be considered dangerous in most circumstances (even though this is currently normal practice as is speeding). It does not leave room for wobble, obstacles, bad weather etc. And you know that if we specify 3 feet most would think 2.5 feet is fair game. Fair enough to have closer than 3 feet as a serious criminal offence with a severe penalty, but to have 5 feet as the legal distance (with some discretion of enforcement). This campaign makes a mockery of the Highway Code and legitimises careless driving. We need to campaign for legislation based on current safety standards.”

It is an interesting debate. We asked the CTC for their take on it and Victoria Hazael said: “At low speeds 3 feet is enough, but I certainly want much more room that that when I’m overtaken at 50mph.

"Rule 163 in the Highway Code already says to give cyclists at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car, so there is a rule in place already. To find out how much of an issue this is CTC is collecting data on bad driving on our website http://www.stop-smidsy.org.uk/ and we urge all cyclists to log their experiences."

You can add your name to the petition by visiting http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/3feet2Pass/sign, and the deadline to sign up by is Wednesday, January 6.
 

7 user comments

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I'd like to emphasise that I am not for one moment suggesting that a motorist should drive past a cyclist at great speed whilst leaving only 3 foot inbetween. I feel that Jo Mizereck, the Creator of this cause, explains it well, and I quote

"You are absolutely right. 3 feet is conservative, when you have guidelines recommending 6 feet. These two distances can certainly coexist. We should take every opportunity to encourage motorists to give us as much space as they safely can give us. But, we all need to be reasonable and realistic. The probability of success in getting a 3 foot law adopted is far greater than getting a 6 foot law adopted. And what's most important is getting at least 3 feet of space protected by law. Interestingly, cyclists wearing my "3 feet please" jersey report back to me that more motorists are giving them more space more often...but, more importantly, these motorists aren't just giving my cyclists 3 feet...they're giving them more than 3 feet.

States here in the USA who have sought 4, 5, and 6 foot laws, have failed or get bogged down in committee and never see the light of day. 3 feet works, and it's a stepping stone to building awareness that at least 3 is required, more is appreciated.

And here's the deal with the enforcement issue...that's not where the true value is found in this law. The true value is found in using the law as a tool for educating motorists about the need to give cyclists at least 3 feet clearance when passing from the rear. Most motorists rise to the occasion when they know what they need to do. Motorists understand what 3 feet or 1 metre means."

I'd also like to state for the record that although I have had one or two emails telling me that this idea is "daft", the majority have been supportive. Presumably if it really was a daft idea, all of those US States wouldn't have signed up?

And finally, there is some guy in Texas who supports this cause. He's called Lance and apparently he knows a bit about cycling.....

posted by Tom Amos [203 posts]
30th October 2009 - 18:58

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Tom Amos wrote:
I'd like to emphasise that I am not for one moment suggesting that a motorist should drive past a cyclist at great speed whilst leaving only 3 foot inbetween.

But that is what this law would suggest. Motorists will always drive to, and slightly beyond, the speed limit even though the Highway Code says this is a maximum and speed should be lowered in poor weather conditions. If the law says 3 feet, they will use that as the rule regardless of speed. 3 feet is definitely not OK in a 50mph limit.

Tom Amos wrote:

The probability of success in getting a 3 foot law adopted is far greater than getting a 6 foot law adopted.

And the probability of passing a one foot law would be even greater. I would fully support a 5 foot law because that is based on the Highway Code and safety standards. I will not support anything that compromises safety just because it is more likely to win approval.

Tom Amos wrote:
Interestingly, cyclists wearing my "3 feet please" jersey report back to me that more motorists are giving them more space more often

A five foot one would have the same or greater effect, particularly as this is backed up by the driving theory test.

Tom Amos wrote:

its a stepping stone to building awareness that at least 3 is required, more is appreciated.

Once 3 foot is recognised in law we will never be able to persuade people that more is required

Tom Amos wrote:

And finally, there is some guy in Texas who supports this cause. He's called Lance and apparently he knows a bit about cycling.....

And the people who write the Highway Code know a bit about road safety and driver psychology. I do think legislation is required, but not 3 feet. Another point; where a cyclist is clipped by a wing mirror the motorist can argue about whether 3 foot was given, and whether the cyclist swerved into the car. This would not be plausible at 5 foot. How about a campaign for distance in feet equals speed limit in mph divided by 10, i.e. 30 mph = 3 feet, 50mph = 5 feet?

I certainly don't like the idea of cycling in a 60mph limit wearing a jersey that suggests to motorists its ok leave just 3 feet!

voujan

posted by voujan [13 posts]
31st October 2009 - 2:18

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Just checked out the www.3feet2pass.com site which states that this has been passed as law in France. If this is true then it is a real shame (can anyone confirm?). Up until now the Code de la Route said overtaking cyclists with less than 1.5m (5ft) clearance constitutes dangerous overtaking. Let us hope the campaign doesn’t spread to Spain and Germany which still legislates for 1.5m. Note that the Dublin Cycling Campaign has been calling for 1.5 meters to be enshrined in Irish traffic law too. I hope authorities don’t get the impression that cyclists now want to reduce current European safety laws and standards.

voujan

posted by voujan [13 posts]
31st October 2009 - 11:16

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Bit of a joke about the European law comment when currently there is nothing that anyone is taking notice of here in the UK!

Lets get back to basics, I want a car to pass myself on the opposite side of the road, well I can wish and hope, but it wont happen, unless it's a cyclist driving, but hang on cyclist dont drive cars because they are all green freaks that think cars should be banned............well, I as well as you have a car I guess, but this is the thinking behind many.

If you start with a 3ft you have a good beginning for car driver awareness, if this is made public and car drivers know it they will give space, it really comes down to making drivers aware of space required and needed on a cycle.

On another note cyclist need to do their bit also to gain respect from motorists.

At the end of the day a 3 feet rule is achievable and should be an initial goal, and is better than getting the idea of space kicked out and back to the situation we currently have..........NO SPACE!!

posted by Lee OCRT [1 posts]
31st October 2009 - 19:10

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Lee OCRT wrote:
Bit of a joke about the European law comment when currently there is nothing that anyone is taking notice of here in the UK! ..............If you start with a 3ft you have a good beginning for car driver awareness

The problem is that nobody is paying attention to the guidelines, I agree. We need awareness and need legal protection. However we should start that awareness by quoting our current rules (not law) of giving the same width as to a car, or since we are in the EU look at the legislation of 1.5m or 5 feet. The problem with this campaign is it just says 3 feet regardless of speed and other factors. If we are going to have a campaign to enshrine safety standards in law then we should not just make up a figure that is less than the current guidelines. What is 3 feet based on? An inner city commuter perhaps that never leaves a 30mph limit? The psychology of drivers is not "oh I better give it a bit more than that" it will be "well the law says 3 feet that’s how much I will need to give them in case I get fined"

If a cyclist has to swerve to avoid an obstacle on 50-70mph limit and the passing car leaves only 3 feet there will be an accident. Even without current legislation we can currently quote the Highway Code and ascertain that the driver was negligent. If the law says 3 feet this will be over ruled. If the law is 5ft, yes it will rarely be enforced but there is no doubt when it has to be.

Lee OCRT wrote:
I as well as you have a car I guess

No I don't have car, hence I am required to cycle outside 30mph limits. I have a clean driving license though, and I could afford to run a car if I wanted to. I do not support the green agenda (I don't believe climate change is caused by cars at all) and I am not anti-car. I am pro-safety and consideration to others.

Lee OCRT wrote:

On another note cyclist need to do their bit also to gain respect from motorists.

Absolutely agree. I rarely see other cyclists on my daily commute but I always give busses right of way, I never undertake and I am courteous to all road users, but assertive in my road position. I find that motorists (most will probably see me every day) give respect back. I notice the bus drivers seem to have developed a friendly non-verbal rapore with me.

I think the initial goal should be:

We require 5 feet, which is what the experts in road safety have concluded. Motorists are generally not giving this and police need the powers to protect the cyclists. Perhaps in 30mph limits we can compromise to 3 feet, but overtaking should be done with caution. With this law adhered to there is no excuse for cyclists to jump red lights, cycle on pavements and undertake.

voujan

posted by voujan [13 posts]
31st October 2009 - 20:15

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Me again, sorry. There has been a lot of discussion about this on the CTC forum and a great deal of concern that 3 feet is too close. I have cycled through many European countries and I am familiar with the road signs that tell motorists they must leave 1.5 meters when overtaking a cyclist, and I believe this is the standard we should adopt in the UK. I am certainly not the only one who feels that this 3 feet 2 pass campaign will endanger cyclists. Someone else (no not me) has now set up a 5 feet to overtake petition which I urge everyone who is concerned about cyclists safety to sign (even if you do already support the 3 feet one). It is here:

http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/5feet-or-more/

voujan

posted by voujan [13 posts]
1st November 2009 - 0:53

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Okay, so this isn't going to work in Cambridge. All the streets have cyclists in both lanes all the time. The passing space on many old streets is less than three feet. If it isn't practical it doesn't work as a law.

In a city that expects cyclists (Cambridge) the car drivers are all cyclists themselves. They expect cyclists to be experienced and car-conscious and handle-bars +3ft is too much in a 30 zone. Likewise the cyclists expect the drivers to know all about bikes, and know to check their blind spots etc... before turning.

Move to a city that treats cyclists like dirt (Glasgow) and the opposite is true. (Cyclists are inexperienced, rude and don't know how to obey the law while Car drivers don't know what a bike looks like) - the 5ft law is appropriate.

This is why the law has to remain in it's current hazy form.

posted by twak [1 posts]
5th November 2009 - 3:12

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