H5074 – The Three Foot Rule



H5074 – The Three Foot Rule

We had a really lively discussion at tonight’s advocacy meeting about the Three Foot Rule slated to be considered by the RI General Assembly sometime soon.  During the meeting, it was suggested that we try to organize a meeting with Lori DiBiasio, the driving force behind this legislation, and have a meeting of cyclists to discuss the bills merits.  I’ve invited Lori to attend our next advocacy meeting on March 5th.  Hopefully, she can make it and so can you!  It would be great to continue this conversation.

In the mean time, I’d like everyone to start giving this law some serious thought.  The opinions expressed this evening ranged from “It’s about time, this law will help cyclists gain some legitimacy on the roads” to “This law is totally unnessary.  Cyclist already have a legal right to be on the roads and introducing a law like this may actually backfire on us.  Motorists may well concede this law, but in return, might start demanding that cyclists get a license, wear a helmet, use a mirror, where bright refelctive clothing at all times, etc.”  Cyclists should have a say when this comes up in front of the RI Judiciary Committee and, to keep from looking like a bunch of nutcases, we need to clearly and logically form an argument pro/con the law.

So what is your take?


  • m. mitchell
    Feb 6, 2009 at 6:02 am

    It is my understanding that the proposed legislation is sponsored and promoted in response to a tragic accident and the subsequent non-prosecution of the motorist. As such, the proposed legislation is a knee-jerk reaction to a bad situation.

    Laws that impact cycling in Rhode Island should be written by active cyclists and cycling advocacy groups, rather than non-cyclists. Cycling is better served if local bicycling organizations and bicycle shop operators review current bicycle related statutes (cf. 31-19-1, et seq.), then lobby for legislative changes that serve and promote shared use of the public roadways, as well as safe, responsible cycling. Ad hoc legislation does not serve cycling's long term interests.


  • david
    Feb 6, 2009 at 7:24 am

    I think that this law will be really helpful. Drivers don't know how much room to leave — I've talked to some who thought they were passing safely as long as they didn't hit me. I have almost stopped biking because drivers pass too close and too fast, and this will at least provide input into what is safe and reasonable. It may annoy some drivers, but they will probably be annoyed by anything that suggests that they slow down when they are in a hurry. It might even annoy me sometimes when I'm behind the wheel, but I still think that it will be helpful in the long run.

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  • Matt Moritz
    Feb 6, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    I think defining more precisely what is a safe and reasonable distance to leave when passing is a good idea. The 3-feet proposal seems to me a bit arbitrary and likely to go unenforced, which of course leads to the question of why have a law that won't be enforced.

    From my own experience, I'd like more than a few inches when I'm being passed, if only for my own comfort, but also as a safety against the unforeseen caused by road conditions (potholes, ice, opening car doors) and other hazards.

    On reading the bill, I think the "driver must slow to 10 or 20 mph below the speed limit" doesn't seem to me to have a use. I think they're trying to suggest that when passing with less than a safe distance, the driver should slow their speed to not blow the cyclist over, but the wording doesn't make this clear.

  • Dennis
    Feb 7, 2009 at 11:23 pm

    I think about enforceablility. I know that people have been killed and no charges have been pressed so ANY law that can be use might be helpful. When it come to how much a car misses me by I don't really care whether its 3 feet or 3 inches.

    Do you really think that the police are going to set up a "bike trap" to catch people that are not following this law? And what will a lawyer with any sense do with that wording once it gets to court?

  • Feb 8, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    I don't think there is any way this law could be enforced. The only benefit I see from the potential legislation is if it would put the RI Attorney General in a better position to press charges when a cyclists is seriously injured or killed. The more I think about it, I'm not sure this law will actually make any difference in these cases.

    The big question in my mind is what does the cycling community want from such a law? What is it we are really after? Would our lives suddenly be much safer if all motorists kept three feet when they passed us? I think what we really want is recognition that cycling is a valid form of transportation and that we should be respected when on the road. These are really societal changes and require a change in thinking the part of motorists AND cyclists.

    Motorists need to come to a realization that cyclists have every right to be on the road. Yes, cyclists will be in your way at times, but that doesn't give you the right to endanger their lives. They must be respected and given room to navigate to wherever they are going.

    Cyclists need to realize that they are not above the laws. Flying through stop signs and stop lights just isn't legal. We are required to yield to pedestrians at all times and must wait our turn at stops, just like cars do.

  • sandra
    Mar 21, 2009 at 7:54 am

    People have to be held accountable and responsible for their actions so no matter how we decide to do this lets just do it bikers need protection and I dont want to see any more lifes taken .

  • Mar 22, 2009 at 8:03 am

    12 states have passed 3-feet passing laws. The laws are working effectively for their intended purpose: to give motorists a clear point of reference as to how close they may come to a bicyclist or pedestrian.

    Most motorists have good common sense around safe passing. However, a percentage of law abiding motorists do not and need a clear standard they can readily understand–such as 3-feet law. Some states have tried 3-feet recommendations rather than laws, but they are not nearly as effective. Recommedations are commonly ignored (e.g., recomendations not to use a cell phone in a car were ineffective). Further, it is much harder when publicizing 3-feet to get people’s attention if it is only a recommendation not a law.

    3-feet laws are NOT meant to be strictly enforced, and are not. If there is an egregious violation a citation might issue, but only then. Most of the times only a warning is issued unless the pass is clearly dangerous (such as at high speed with tight clearance).

    The value of the 3-feet law is in the injuries and deaths avoided because an additional percent of motorists will pass more safely. It is not in the number of citations issued.

  • Mar 22, 2009 at 4:29 pm

    I contend that the law of unintended consequences will dictate that outraged motorists will buzz more cyclists on purpose if this law goes into effect. Those 12 states haven't shown any decrease in nominal bicycling fatalities, which nationally stays a small constant of ~700/year.

    They just passed another similar law: Slow Down and Move Over (31-14). http://www.rilin.state.ri.us/Statutes/TITLE31/31-
    It's punishable by an $85 fine, not much of a deterrent. Deterrents might keep people from consuming. Can't have that.

    The general reaction has been, what? Nobody gets it. In brief, you've got to respect AAA tow truck drivers or police assisting motorists or giving tickets by the roadside.

    It's already law that you must remain under control of your vehicle. What if there's a sudden pileup ahead? You always had to slow or stop for intersecting dump trucks or payloaders working construction sites. Perhaps this law clarifies a motorist's responsibility among those who actually read and understand laws, lawyers who work the system for their advantage, perhaps, but few others.

    Again, removing cell phones from motorists who are supposed to be driving and paying attention would help make roads safer for everyone. Revoking licenses of multiple offenders would make both biking and driving very pleasant.