The 3-Foot Law: Why NYS Needs It

As we continue to celebrate May as National Bike Safety Month, and this week as Bike to Work Week, we encourage everyone to consider keeping the car at home and using two wheels to get into the office. And we encourage motorists to remember to share the road, not only because it keeps everyone safer, but because it’s the law.

Speaking of laws, let’s talk about a key measure to improve bicyclist safety that has gained traction in many states: the 3-foot law. This statute designates a safe passing zone when motor vehicles are passing bicyclists by requiring that at least three feet separates the vehicle and the biker.

street sign about 3 feet rule

Image: Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious

Nearly 30 states specify three feet for safe passing. Unfortunately, New York State is not one of them. While New York does have a current law on the books mandating passing at a “safe distance,” it provides no definition as to what that should be. While New York has made some strides in promoting a bike-friendly environment through awareness and advocacy, there is still much room for improvement. The League of American Bicyclists provides report cards rating each state based on a number of bicyclist-related criteria including legislation, infrastructure and education. New York ranks 29th in the nation.

New York State Safe Passing Law

The operator of a vehicle overtaking, from behind, a bicycle proceeding on the same side of a roadway shall pass to the left of such bicycle at a safe distance until safely clear thereof.”

This lack of clarity is a disservice to both motorists and cyclists. Many drivers may not realize that they do in fact have to share the road and give sufficient space. And one driver’s concept of “sufficient space” may be vastly different than another’s. The ambiguity makes it difficult to enforce. Bicyclists are often crowded off the road by vehicles and forced onto uneven surfaces or dangerous pathways in order to avoid contact with the vehicle.

While passage of a specific 3-foot law is not a panacea, it helps raise awareness to promote bike safety, and establishes a legal framework for victims who have been injured by a negligent motorist. As experienced personal injuries lawyers, we have seen first hand the devastating effects of bicycle accidents.

Join the Ride

This Friday, May 19, you can help show support for additional language in the existing law that would require a three-foot passing distance by joining the New York Bicycling Coalition and other supporters at noon in West Capitol Park in Albany for the 3FT Capital Cruise – Ride For A Legal Safe Passing Definition.

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