3 Feet Please – a simple message and a clear rule drivers will understand

3 Feet Please_3D Badge_150 A few months back one of the many petitions that as cyclists we were encouraged to sign was to create a new law in the UK calling for a minimum of 3 feet passing distance that drivers should give cyclists. Currently the law for this in the Highway Code simply states: “give a cyclist as much room as you would give a car”. This is an ambiguous rule that confuses drivers and doesn’t give cyclists any protection. Exactly what does “as much room as you would give a car” mean?

In a court situation where a cyclist has been hit by a car the driver may simply say “I was attempting to give the cyclist as much room as I give a car”. Without a clearer definition this statement may as well be missed out of the highway code.

Another situation where a clearer rule could help is in driving tests. It is notoriously difficult to get a driving licence and many friends of mine failed a couple of times before passing. I think overall this is a good thing as driving licences should not be passed out left, right and centre. I was one of the lucky ones who passed first time. At no point during my driving did my instructor give me any special directions for overtaking cyclists. Perhaps with a clearer rule in place this could become a bigger part of driver training. With cyclists higher on the agenda and insufficient space perhaps becoming one of the reasons people fail their test this may start to become more deeply embedded in the drivers psyche. Much like stop at red and using indicators.

A lot of people argue that 3 feet is not enough. To an extent I agree but you have to start somewhere. 3 feet is an achievable change in the law that could then in future be extended to 5 feet. It is also important to note the wording. The campaign is calling for a minimum of 3 feet not a recommended passing distance.

There is also the question about what the point is in adding new laws considering the current ones are not enforced enough. The driving with a mobile phone being a typical scenario. This is an important point but once again you have to favour clarity over ambiguity. If you consider that a driver thinks fairly systematically about the rules then if you tell them to give a cyclist as much room as you would give a car then this is left open to translation. Instead, a clear rule is easier to understand and follow.

Last time around when this issue was raised there were 2,602 signatures. This was not enough to get a thorough response from the government who simply pointed towards the current rule as sufficient. If the campaign can strum up more support and enough MP’s get behind the issue then we could see a step in a positive direction for cyclists to be recognised as becoming an increasingly important user of the roads.

I look forward to hearing what everyone thinks about this debate and if you do support it then please Join the Facebook page, join the Twitter account and spread the message to others.

The 3 Feet Please website can be found here.

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12 Responses to 3 Feet Please – a simple message and a clear rule drivers will understand

  1. Hoggs 06/05/2010 at 10:59 am #

    3 feet is a start as you say and actually I would have it for all vehicles as I often see cats overtaking with less than 3 feet between them.

    Sadly, the roads and driving lanes are not wide enough for people to do this in many parts of London, particularly where the road is lined with parked cars.

    • Rich 06/05/2010 at 12:05 pm #

      Serious topic but ‘cats overtaking’ *snigger*

      • Higgs 06/05/2010 at 5:47 pm #

        Comes of typing it in on a phone quickly doh!

    • moggy 20/05/2010 at 2:44 pm #

      Great – now cats want in on the action! What’s the general view on cats on bikes, control-wise?

  2. benji 06/05/2010 at 8:50 pm #

    I think it’s often safe for cars to pass with less than 3 feet, especially if the relative speed of the car compared to the cyclist is not very high. This kind of law would be unenforcable and could just lead to more animosity between motorists and cyclists.

    If there’s not enough room for cars to pass you just take the lane and prevent them from even trying to. You’re pretty much in control of the road.

  3. Angi 07/05/2010 at 8:35 am #

    I agree that roads here in the UK (esp.. London) are too narrow to be able to actually implement this law. It would be nice to be given some space though when being overtaken.

    But I think drivers should just be made more aware when learning to drive that they need to slow down and carefully overtake cyclists.

    @benji yes we equal right to take a prominent position in the road…however this often leaves a lot of drivers fuming…for when they see a cyclist right in front of them, they often decided that they need to put their foot on the gas and have somewhere important to go to very fast all of a sudden!
    But yes, it is a good way to control the situation and your own safety.

  4. Tim 07/05/2010 at 11:07 am #

    Should we be saying 90cm away!!!??!

    Sorry folks a serious topic and worthy of support. Join the Twitter and Facebook pages and write to your MP if you know who it is. Woop the Greens in Brighton. A good place to cycle to and at!

  5. One Loose Nut 07/05/2010 at 1:34 pm #

    The Highway Code is clear about the passing distance. It even has a photo to show you as an example. The problem is that most drivers only read the Code before a driving test and do not go back to it once licensed to drive. The following post underlines rule 163: http://rdimages.co.uk/oneloosenut/?p=738

  6. Filippo Negroni 07/05/2010 at 1:39 pm #

    This is the typical fine line between law enforcement, common sense and risk mitigation.

    I pass fellow cyclists giving as much room as it is reasonably possible: a full lane width if there is no oncoming traffic, slightly less if there is a chance to make the overtake a swift one. I don’t overtake if near junctions or if the cyclist has clearly indicated the intention to move further out, or if I see an obstruction ahead of the cyclist.

    This is common sense, and works very well.

    But there might have been instances where I have given a cyclist less than 3 feet: when climbing up a steep incline on a narrow lane: cyclist correctly moving further left and me trying to make the overtake swift but safe: 2 feet or less might be all I can give without causing major distress for the cyclist and the traffic behind me.

    Please bear in mind that traffic must move at a reasonable speed to lower congestion and allow everyone, including cyclists, to make progress safely.

    That’s where I’d rather there was a guideline that the Police could use to stop and advice motorists or cyclists who drive without due care or dangerously.

    To do that, whether we like it or not, we need more police on the road, and we need the certainty of punishment.

    IMHO, no point making new laws without enforcing existing ones.

  7. No 10/05/2010 at 3:02 pm #

    I agree the wording of the highway code is ambiguous, but the picture in the HC makes it obvious that it means – treat a bike as if it takes up as much room as a car. i.e. don’t try to squeeze past in the same lane.

  8. Mike Smith 29/05/2010 at 8:27 pm #

    In Maryland in the US, they have already passed a local statute requiring vehicles to give a clear three feet of space when passing cyclists. Who said the Americans care car obsessed? (Well, almost everyone, but I’m trying to be positive!)

  9. ADI 08/03/2014 at 10:10 pm #

    Any driving instructor who does not educate / train learner drivers to leave at least 2 metres of space between themselves and cyclists they are overtaking are INCOMPETENT and not fit for their role.

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