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5-foot safe passing rule for bicyclists can save lives

With motor vehicle accident-related fatalities and bike accident injuries increasing, lawmakers need to act to provide safe space for bicyclists

Should Michigan pass a 5-foot "safe distance" passing rule to protect bicyclists?

Tomorrow, on Tuesday, January 16, 2018, the “Bicycle Work Group” will submit its “Finding Report” to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on House Bill 4265. The “5-foot” distance for safe passing requirement proposed in the bill to protect bicyclists is now at serious risk of being removed entirely or being reduced from five feet to three feet.

Five feet.

Five feet of roadway isn’t much to ask when it could save the lives and protect the welfare of the many thousands of bicyclists pedaling across and around Michigan from passing cars and trucks.

That’s the message the League of Michigan Bicyclists (LMB) is working tirelessly to spread about HB 4265, which proposes the following bike safety measure:

Cars should be required to give bicyclists a 5-foot “safe distance” space when passing on either the right or left.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Holly Hughes (R-Montague) on February 23, 2017, and was the subject of an October 31, 2017, hearing before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

The urgency of the LMB’s effort stems from the fact that on Tuesday, January 16, 2018, the “Bicycle Work Group” will submit its “Finding Report” to the Committee.

The workgroup was formed by the Committee for the purpose of studying the bill, but the LMB has learned that the workgroup may be considering the following counter-productive proposals:

  • Removing the specified “5-foot” distance from the safe passing requirement.
  • Reducing the “safe distance” passing range from five to three feet.

As such, the LMB is encouraging citizens to contact Committee members to voice their support for enactment of a 5-foot “safe distance” passing rule to protect bicyclists.

The 5-foot safe distance rule is a great idea that is long overdue as the statistics for bicyclist fatalities and injuries tragically show:

  • Bicyclist fatalities: Between 2014 and 2016, bicyclist fatalities resulting from bicycle-motor vehicle crashes increased approximately 80% from 21 in 2014 to 38 in 2016.
  • Bicyclist injuries: Between 2014 and 2016, bicyclist injuries resulting from bicycle-motor vehicle crashes increased nearly 11% from 1,378 in 2014 to 1,526 in 2016.

(Source: Michigan Traffic Crash Facts, 2014-2016, Vehicle/Driver, Michigan Bicycle Crashes, Bicycle Crash Information)

Who supports a 5-foot ‘safe distance’ rule to protect bicyclists?

My support for a 5-foot “safe distance” passing rule – such as the one in HB 4265 – to protect bicyclists has been long-standing and well known. Obviously, both myself and the other attorneys here at Michigan Auto Law have a unique perspective on this from helping injured bicyclists who are hit by cars and trucks.

But we’re not alone in supporting a 5-foot safe distance rule.

The LMB reports that “the Secretary of State’s office and the Michigan Department of Transportation currently recommend a specific distance in their roadway safety communications.”

Indeed, in the October 2016 edition of the Secretary of State’s “What Every Driver Must Know” (on page 64), the Secretary offers the following safety advice for motorists when passing bicyclists:

“A good rule when passing a bicyclist is to allow at least three feet of space between your side mirror and the rider. Five feet of space is recommended for higher speed roads or if a group of riders is present.” (Page 64, “Sharing the Road Safely – Be Courteous!”)

How does Michigan compare with other states when it comes to protect bicyclists?

As I noted in my blog post, “How much passing distance should you give bicyclists in Michigan?,” here are the “safe distance” rules passed by other states:

  • 3-feet when below 35 mph/6-feet for above 35 mph: 1 state (South Dakota)
  • 4-feet minimum passing distance: 1 state (Pennsylvania)
  • 3-feet minimum passing distance: 27 states
  • 2-feet passing law/4-feet in a no-passing zone: 1 state (North Carolina)
  • General “safe distance” passing requirement: 8 states

What is HB 4265’s 5-foot ‘safe distance’ rule to protect bicyclists?

Rep. Hughes’s HB 4265 specifically proposes the following:

  • “[T]he driver of a vehicle overtaking a bicycle proceeding in the same direction shall pass at a safe distance of at least 5 feet to the left of that bicycle, and when safely clear of the overtaken bicycle shall take up a position as near the right-hand edge of the main traveled portion of the highway as is practicable.”
  • “[T]he driver of a vehicle overtaking a bicycle shall, when otherwise permitted by [MCL 257.637’s rules for “overtak[ing] and pass[ing] another vehicle upon the right”], pass at a safe distance of at least 5 feet to the right of that bicycle.”

What is the Michigan Senate’s position on a 5-foot ‘safe distance’ passing rule for bicyclists?

On February 9, 2017, Sen. David Knezek (D–Dearborn Heights) and Sen. Margaret O’Brien (R-Portage) introduced Senate Bill 123, which proposed that the “driver of a vehicle overtaking a bicycle proceeding in the same direction shall pass at a safe distance of at least 5 feet to the left of that bicycle …”

On September 28, 2017, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously voted SB 123 out of committee – without any changes – and recommended to the full Senate “that the bill pass.”

This entry was tagged Tags: bicycle safety
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