Government rejects 3 Foot To Pass petition

Prime Minister's website says existing laws adequate to protect cyclists

by Simon_MacMichael   January 26, 2010  

3ft Please Jersey UK back

The Government has rejected calls for legislation to be enacted requiring motorists to leave at least three feet passing distance when overtaking cyclists despite a petition on the Prime Minister’s official website attracting 2,600 signatures in favour of such a move.

Last October, we reported on how Tom Amos had set up a petition, 3feet2pass, on Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s website, The petition attracted the support of Florida-based cyclist safety campaigner Joe Mizereck, who has successfully led moves to have such a law enacted in a number of states across the US.

The petition sparked a lively debate here on, with many readers suggesting that the UK should adopt laws similar to those in force in several fellow EU member states including Germany and Spain that require motorists to leave 1.5 metres, equivalent to around five feet, when overtaking cyclists.

Others argued that the focus should instead be on better enforcement of existing legislation to ensure the safety of cyclists, a view shared by cyclists’ organisation, CTC, which pointed out that the Highway Code already advises drivers to leave at least as much room when passing cyclists as they would when overtaking a car.

At the time, CTC Campaigns Co-ordinator Debra Rolfe told “There’s very many ways that Britain differs from the rest of Europe in how it protects cyclists and this [the minimum passing distance] is only one of them. We feel like it’s a bit of a red herring and that legislating a minimum passing distance is not even going to begin to address the problems that we’re facing in the UK.”

She continued, “We feel that the major problem is the lack of traffic law enforcement and that’s why we’re running the Stop SMIDSY campaign” – which urges cyclists to report instances of bad driving – “and one of the things we’re calling for in the Stop SMIDSY campaign is increased resources towards road traffic policing.”

In rejecting the petition, a statement on the Number 10 website said: “The Government have no plans to introduce the proposed legislation. All drivers have a duty of care and consideration to other road users. Rules 163, 211 - 213 of The Highway Code advises drivers to give cyclists at least as much room as a car when overtaking and to give them plenty of room and pay attention to any sudden change they may have to make.

“Many of the rules in the Code are legal requirements, and if you disobey these rules you are committing a criminal offence. You may be fined, given penalty points on your licence or be disqualified from driving. In the most serious cases you may be sent to prison. Such rules are identified by the use of the words ‘MUST/MUST NOT’. In addition, the rule includes an abbreviated reference to the legislation which creates the offence. An explanation of the abbreviations can be found in ‘The road user and the law’.

The statement continued: “Although failure to comply with the other rules of the Code will not, in itself, cause a person to be prosecuted, The Highway Code may be used in evidence in any court proceedings under the Traffic Acts (see ‘The road user and the law’) to establish liability. This includes rules which use advisory wording such as ‘should/should not’ or ‘do/do not’.

“The Code can be purchased from most good bookshops, price £2.50, or viewed online [here].”

Following today's announcement of the rejection of the petition, Ms Rolfe told "It is clear that the Government needs to prioritise the level of traffic policing to increase cyclists' safety. Just think, if every driver followed The Highway Code there would be far fewer cyclists hurt on our roads. CTC Campaigns team continues to urge the Government to take all bad driving, not just overtaking, seriously."

Meanwhile, Tom Amos was understandably dismayed but not surprised by the decision, telling "The news that the Government rejects the petition is disappointing although somewhat expected."  

However, he believes that the reasons given for the rejection of his petition did show some inconsistency, saying: "Interestingly, the  response seems to contradict itself. On the one hand, the writer suggests that the rules on distance between a motorist and cyclist are advisory but then goes on to state that many of the code rules are mandatory.  How is this a relevant point when the writer recognises that this particular rule is only advisory? Why isn't this rule mandatory then?

"The response falls into the trap of advising cyclists to buy the Highway Code," he added. "Many cyclists, including myself, hold a  driving license and are more than aware of the rules contained in it - we just wish that more drivers would read it and pay regard to it!

"As more countries sign up to legislation based on the 3 feet 2 pass rule, I remain hopeful that the Government will be forced to return to this issue in the future," he concluded.


11 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

Just keep the story in the news - and vote conservative Smile

jobysp's picture

posted by jobysp [145 posts]
26th January 2010 - 17:12


I am disappointed to hear this news. More specifically, I am disappointed in the CTC for failing to support the initiative and Prime Minister Gordon Brown's office for their lack of leadership. Cycling could have beome safer in the UK and lives could have been saved. A sad day.

I am so sorry I couldn't have done more to help UK cyclists gain this protection. I commend Tom Amos and all the others who tried to make this happen. In time, I can only hope that more enlightened souls will come to the table and they will understand the good that can be accomplished by having a law on the books that requires motorists to give cyclists 1.5 metres clearance when passing from the rear.

It's not over...

Thank you,
Joe Mizereck

joemizereck's picture

posted by joemizereck [17 posts]
26th January 2010 - 17:33


Maybe start by approaching to get the wording of the Highway Code changed instead - rather than "be advised", change the wording to you MUST give cyclists?

Was thinking about this on the way home as cars passed within one foot of me at around 30mph.

Dunno how difficult it would be, but the contradictions in the reply shows the government aren't that clear on the Highway Code.

jobysp's picture

posted by jobysp [145 posts]
26th January 2010 - 21:35


What about a petition for a lifetime ban for any driver who kills a pedestrian or cyclist?
Driving is a privelege, not a right. There are too many cars on the roads, so let's thin them out a bit by severely punishing dangerous drivers (and by 'dangerous', I mean 90% of drivers who are involved in accidents).
I would love to know how many people a year get lifetime bans. Very few I would imagine.

posted by mistercrud [7 posts]
27th January 2010 - 10:02


Um, with the Tories in favour of cutting back on speed cameras (both fixed-location and average speed ones), I don't believe road safety will be better under a Conservative government. If anything, it will get worse.

Conscientious Objector in the War on Vulnerable Road Users

t1mmyb's picture

posted by t1mmyb [87 posts]
27th January 2010 - 14:58


Mistercrud, i agree. There's so much more than overtaking room that needs to be addressed - i've nothing against this campaign, it would have been a step forward if made law, but i believe the CTC is correct - it's a distraction from the bigger issues of lack of accountability, lack of respect both ways on the roads and an over-full road system that was designed without consideration of non-motorised road users. a minuimum passing distance is unworkable in some areas and would be ignored by some drivers just like many other rules or guidelines are ignored, epsecially as it's almost impossible to catch and prosecute anyone passing too close.

Joe, it's an admirable aim but specifics aren't the answer, let's try to get a more general, achievable aim suppoerted more widely - a clear message. forget stopatred, ipayroadtax, 3ftplease etc, a simple message of consideration both ways on the roads may work better. if stressed-out, impatient driving was seen as antisocial rather than necessary we may get somewhere longer-term. we'd support it for a start, i'm sure many in the industry would.
A guy who nearly took me out while being plain impatient a while back seemed to stop and think when i got a chance to say to him "i may be a father of young children, just please drive with a bit more consideration.." i'm not, but it changed his tune quite quickly. road rage etc helps no-one, but showing / reminding people of their human side can work wonders.

James @ Genesis,

posted by james-o [226 posts]
27th January 2010 - 15:18


James, I have used that line 3 times (I am a father with children) and its stopped the people I've used it too right in their tracks.

As for the conservatives comment - I only said it because David Cameron rides a bike as does our lovely Boris Johnson Smile

Them saying no to cycling things would cause more of a media stir than some Scottish chap who wasn't elected to government.

jobysp's picture

posted by jobysp [145 posts]
27th January 2010 - 16:07


Boris Johnson, lovely? What have you been consuming? I believe he only started riding a bike following driving offences.


posted by OldRidgeback [2552 posts]
27th January 2010 - 17:26


CTC is correct, enforce what we have would be the best start. they can introduce laws to cover a million new things but if there are not enforced they are pointless.

posted by mrchrispy [406 posts]
27th January 2010 - 21:01


mrchrispy wrote:
CTC is correct, enforce what we have would be the best start. they can introduce laws to cover a million new things but if there are not enforced they are pointless.

With regard to overtaking distance, there is nothing to enforce as the Highway Code guideline is advisory only. Thus, motorists can, it seems, pass as closely as they like without fear of prosecution.

At the very least our administration who, judging by the reply to the petition above, seem pretty much out of touch with the needs of present-day cyclists, should (at the very least) change the HC code from a "should" to a "must give cyclists as much room as a car".

TiNuts's picture

posted by TiNuts [98 posts]
29th January 2010 - 14:36


I still fail to see how this 3 feet to pass rule could ever save lives.

It is law in Florida, and just over the last couple of months 2 cyclists have been killed by drivers hitting them from behind, one was actually on a cycle lane.

Even the woman who ran down Major Rhys-Evans claimed she didn't see him, so a 3 foot law would make no difference in that case. I can't imagine there are many cases of drivers aiming to miss a cyclist by only a couple of feet and then misjudging it, and running them down. It is more likely a lack of attention led them to not seeing the rider in the first place.

More enforcement of current traffic laws to prevent driving when tired, drugged, drunk or even just on a mobile, doing their hair, changing a CD etc, these are the ones that really worry me.

Complicating matters since 1965

DaSy's picture

posted by DaSy [690 posts]
29th January 2010 - 15:51