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Calls for one-metre safe passing distances for cyclists but do they work?

Research into the effectiveness or otherwise of one-metre safe passing distances for cyclists is limited. In part because such rules have only been promulgated in a limited number of jurisdictions including fourteen states in the United States.  To my knowledge no such legislation exists in Australia and in my personal experience the current so called “safe passing” in Western Australia are a waste of time.

Accident, Analysis and Prevention Journal

Love (2012) has examined the effectiveness or otherwise of the three-foot passing law which took effect in Maryland (MD), United States (US) in October 2010.  Of course the law as only been in place for a limited time and the research undertaken by Love was some 11 to 12 months after the law was passed.  Is this a sufficient time period for a law to become embedded into the psychic of motorists?  Love’s findings suggest not.

While further research is need into one-metre safe passing laws, this preliminary paper does suggest that the one-metre safe passing laws on their own are not sufficient to change motorists behaviour and to encourage safer respectful sharing of common land, i.e., roads.

The abstract for Love (2012) follows and the full paper can be download here.

Maryland (MD) recently became one of fourteen states in the United States to enact a traffic law requiring motor vehicles to pass bicyclists at a distance of greater than three feet. To our knowledge, motorist compliance with the law has never been assessed. This study measured the distance between overtaking motor vehicles and cyclists [e.g. vehicle passing distance (VPD)], to develop baseline metrics for tracking

implementation of the three-foot passing law in Baltimore, MD and to assess risk factors for dangerous passes. During September and October 2011, cyclists (n = 5) measured VPD using a previously published video technique (Parkin and Meyers, 2010). Cyclists logged a total of 10.8 h of video footage and 586 vehicle passes on 34 bicycle commuting trips. The average trip lasted 19.5 ± 4.9min and cyclists were passed on average 17.2 ± 11.8 times per trip. VPDs of three feet or less were common when cycling in standard lanes (17%; 78 of 451 passes) and lanes with a shared lane marking (e.g. sharrows) (23%; 11 of 47 passes). No passes of three feet or less occurred in bicycle lanes (0 of 88 passes). A multiple linear regression model was created, which explained 26% of the variability in VPD. Significant model variables were lane width, bicycle infrastructure, cyclist identity, and street identity. Interventions, such as driver education, signage, enforcement, and bicycle infrastructure changes are needed to influence driving behavior in Baltimore to increase motorist compliance with the three-foot law.

Love, D.C. (2012). Is the three-foot bicycle passing law working in Baltimore, Maryland? Accident Analysis and Prevention, in-press.

4 Responses to Calls for one-metre safe passing distances for cyclists but do they work?

  1. Sarah May 2, 2012 at 12:18 PM #

    I have a question about road rules and whether or not it is legal for me to do the following:

    Am I allowed to cycle in the middle of a lane? Because on my way home, there is a two lane road and very few drivers give me that one metre breathing space. Since a lot of drivers overtake me within inches of my bike, I feel extremely uncomfortable about staying to the LEFT of this lane.

    So, am I allowed to take up the left lane? I find that this way, I have less of a chance of being driven off the road, and the drivers still have the right lane to themselves.

    • Aushiker May 2, 2012 at 7:10 PM #

      Thanks for your question Sarah. If the road you are referring to is two lanes in the same direction then yes you are legally allowed to ride down the centre of the lane, otherwise you are required to keep as far left as practicable. Of course it comes down to what is practicable.

      As a generally guide I tend to ride out about 1 to 1.5 metres from the kerb, somewhere around the left edge of the tyre track from where the motor vehicles tend to run. I don’t hug the kerb.

      While this approach is not perfect it significantly reduces the amount of close passing.

      Hope this helps.

  2. Cyclesnail May 21, 2012 at 5:18 PM #

    It is unfortunate that the abstract/conclusion of the paper is not supported by the data. The date shows that during this research project there were NO close passes, as a matter of fact there were no passes in the 2 foot range.

    Interesting approach, small sample, questionable conclusion, dressed up as research…

    • Aushiker May 21, 2012 at 10:29 PM #

      Thanks Cyclesnail for challenging the thinking of the paper. It is good to be encouraged to sit back and reconsider the paper.

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