Joe Mizereck, whose website www.3feetplease.com has been one of the driving forces behind getting a three-foot minimum distance passed into law in 14 states in the US, has thrown his weight behind UK cyclists campaigning for Britain to adopt the more generous minimum passing distance of 1.5 metres which applies in a number of other EU states.
Commenting on road.cc, Mizereck also challenged UK cyclists’ organisation CTC to push the government to come into line with its European neighbours and set five feet as the minimum distance.
Mizereck had initially urged British cyclists to support the 3-foot petition, but on learning that the wider distance already applied in other EU countries, accepted that it made sense for parliament to be lobbied to bring the UK into line with laws elsewhere.
“Given the precedents set in other European countries,” Mizereck suggested that UK cyclists should “agree to pursue the adoption of a law that requires motorists to give cyclists 1.5 metres clearance when passing from the rear. Get everyone on the same page and make it happen.” He added that he hoped “the CTC will lead the charge in securing this protection for UK cyclists,” and urged cyclists to sign a further petition on the Prime Minister’s site pushing for a five-foot minimum distance.
Tom Amos’s petition on Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s official site to set a minimum distance of three feet for cars passing cyclists is now heading towards 2,000 signatures. But the petition has provoked fierce debate among cyclists on road.cc, with many saying that three feet isn’t enough and they would not be prepared to sign it as a result.
There’s a groundswell of opinion that the minimum distance should be set at five feet – around the same as the 1.5 metres stipulated by law in a number of the UK’s fellow EU member states including Germany, France (outside urban areas, where it is one metre) and Spain.
Much of the support for the wider distance stems from the fact that while three feet may prove just about adequate in areas where 30mph speed limits apply – although in such areas, there is often the additional problem of restricted road width making such a measure difficult to adhere to in practice – it is wholly insufficient on other roads with speed limits of 50 or 60mph or above.
Furthermore, many have expressed the opinion that by setting the safe passing limit at three feet, motorists may view that as adequate, whatever the driving conditions and speed limits in force, thereby increasing the risk to cyclists.
But Tom Amos, the instigator of the petition, disagrees, urging “all those who don't think that 3 feet is sufficient, [to] sign the petition and we can argue over the distance later! Remember, it is a minimum requirement, NOT a recommendation to drive within 3 feet of a cyclist. If we ever do manage to get a meeting with Lord Adonis, we will ask for 1.5m as a starting point!”
Part of the resistance to the suggestion of lobbying for a minimum of three feet and then trying to extend it later, however, is due to a perception that if that distance were adopted – which would of necessity mean it passing through the various stages of the legislative process in parliament – it would prove impossible to have it further extended in the future.
But whether three feet or five feet, the desire to have legislation in place defining a minimum passing limit stems from what is seen as lack of precision from official quarters on the subject, with the Department for Transport (DfT) telling road.cc last week that “our advice to motorists in the Highway Code is clear that drivers should leave plenty of room when overtaking a cyclist, especially if they are towing a trailer or are driving a large vehicle. ”
When we asked the DfT to clarify its definition of “plenty of room,” we were told that “Rule 163 of the Highway Code adds that a driver should give cyclists ‘at least as much room’ as you would a car,” and that there is a picture illustrating this in the Highway Code.”
As a result, campaigners believe that it is difficult for all road users to know where the line should be drawn in terms of safe passing distance. Moreover, the adoption of a stipulated distance would also help determine issues of liability in cases where cyclists are “clipped” by overtaking drivers.
Neither is the situation helped by the inadequacy of many existing bike lanes, often narrower than three feet from kerb to outer marking, which may encourage drivers to believe that as long as they are not infringing on the lane itself, they are giving enough room.
If you are a British citizen or resident and haven’t already signed the petition, you can do so here, while a separate petition asking the Prime Minister to "give cyclists more room" and called "5 feet or more" can be found here.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.