What Good Are Laws That No One Knows About? (3 Foot Law)

Back in July 2011, Georgia’s “Better Bicycling Bill” became the law.  Other than cycling advocates, I’d venture a guess that very few Georgia motorists know anything about the changes brought about by the new law and, in particular, the so-called “3 Foot Law”:

40-6-56.35: Subsection (a) defines the term “Safe Distance” to mean not less than three feet. Subsection (b) states that “when feasible” motor vehicle operators will leave a “safe distance” between their vehicle and a cyclist traveling in the same direction when overtaking the cyclist.

Note: If anyone is interested, I detailed all of the change in a blog entry back in May right after the law was passed that you can find HERE

Back in September 2011 I took a nice weekday afternoon ride along a familiar route and was “buzzed” by a construction vehicle and a school bus and wrote about my experiences after making contact with both the company and the county.  The private firm was all-over getting the word out to their crews, whereas the school district never bothered to respond.

However, it was pretty clear that even these two heavy-road users had not taken the time to educate their drivers about the so-called “3-Foot Law” that requires motorists to yield a 3-foot safe passing zone around bicycles when overtaking.

So, as the temps rise and more cyclists return to the roads you gotta wonder when the old “Share the Road” signs are going to replaced by something like the sign at left to educate motorists.

Here’s the deal: having finally had a chance to get out for a weekday ride yesterday afternoon, it was pretty clear that very few motorists had a clue they needed to yield that 3-foot “safe passing distance” as I was ‘buzzed’ at least a dozen times, even with my amazingly bright dinote tail light flashing away.  Today we had the same experience while out riding our tandem.  Again, I suspect most motorists are clueless that such a requirement even exists, which means about the only time the law will come into play is after a motorist hits a cyclist and can be charged with violating 40-6-56-35… that is, assuming it was feasible to yield a “safe distance” to the cyclist.

Sorry, I just see these as hollow, “feel good” laws that will eventually become part of the fodder used to ban cyclists from certain public roads where officials decide it’s just to unsafe to put motorists at risk of being charged with crimes when they mow down cyclists.  No, that’s not a misprint. I don’t see these laws that are designed to protect cyclists as anything more than the source of further motorist angst, if and when any motorist is ever convicted for hitting a cyclist and loses their license.  Once that starts to happen with any regularity there won’t be some huge push for drivers to be more considerate and mindful of the laws pertaining to cyclists, as it will just be easier to designate certain roads to be off-limits for cyclists who the average motorist will see as not being smart enough to stay off of dangerous roads.


About TG

I've been around a bit and done a few things, have a couple kids and a few grandkids. I tend to be curmudgeonly, matter-of-fact and not predisposed to self-serving chit-chat. Thankfully, my wife's as nice as can be otherwise we'd have no friends. My interests are somewhat eclectic, but whose aren't?
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2 Responses to What Good Are Laws That No One Knows About? (3 Foot Law)

  1. gabby says:

    I wonder if it would be legal for cyclists to attach and ride with 2ft “car feelers” sticking out on the traffic side? Perhaps it would deter drivers from getting their passenger side all marred up if they drive within that 2ft (>1ft within the limit) zone.

    • TG says:

      I fear your feeler is one of those things that “sounds” really good, but in reality creates more problems than it would solve. I see two immediate concerns:

      1. Anything attached to the bicycle becomes, by extention, part of the bicycle. Yes, it would definitely make the point that a car is too close in the event a motorist hit the “feeler”. However, it complicates things given you now have contact between a car and the bicycle (the extension thereof), and possibly physical damage to at least the car as well as… which leads to my second concern:

      2. I don’t know how you would fabricate a “feeler” rigid enough to stay extended from a bicycle that wouldn’t become a hazard to the cyclist in the event a passing car hit the thing. Even just a plastic stick could end up striking either the cyclist’s leg and/or ending up in a front or rear wheel when struck by a passing vehicle. More to the point, if someone was to add anything designed to inflict damage to a passing vehicle (i.e., a sharp end that would mar the paint or something with mass that would crack a headlamp, turn signal, or mar the side of the vehicle) it would simply increase the likelihood that the cyclist would be harmed directly or indirectly by their own “feeler”. Moreover, the more rigid and well-connected to the bicycle someone made the “feeler” the more likely it is the cyclist would have their bicycle knocked out from under them in the event of any contact.

      At the end of the day, mutual respect for shared use by responsible, well-informed drivers & cyclists is what will ultimately lead to safer roads for cyclists. You know, the impossible dream. Sadly, there are just too many self-interested motorists and cyclists who muck-it-up for the vast majority of motorists and cyclists who do get along. Or, at least that’s my view of things: it’s clearly not a one-sided problem.

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