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.
The 3 Feet Please website can be found here.