Give 3 Feet

Why "Give 3 Feet"?

Give 3 Feet

Too often cars and bicycles come precariously close to each other. Bicyclists need at least three feet between them and a passing car to be safe. Three feet is the minimum distance that motorists should allow. More than three feet is truly appreciated by cyclists commuting or recreating on shared roads.

A minimum driving distance of three feet from cyclists keeps them protected from dangers such as a side view mirror collision or wind from a vehicle pushing them over. Cyclists also need space to maneuver in the event they need to avoid a pothole or road debris.

As a motorist, you will encounter cyclists on the road. That’s a good thing! Riding a bike to work or school or while running errands:

  • improves health and fitness,
  • reduces pollution and traffic, and
  • creates more livable communities.

Benefits of allowing three feet when passing:

  • Enables motorist to pass safely without worrying about contact,
  • reduces chance of injuring a cyclist with a car’s side view mirror, and
  • increases sense of security for cyclists, who can then avoid debris and potholes without worrying about space.

By giving cyclists three feet, you are supporting a livable community where cyclists—your friends and neighbors—can get where they need to go. Your safer driving practices may someday prevent a terrible accident.

What does the law say?

  • Washington State law classifies bicycles as vehicles, with all the rights and responsibilities of a vehicle driver. This means that bicycles have a right to be on the road; they also bear the responsibility to obey traffic laws.
  • The Washington State driver’s manual mandates allowing at least three feet of space when passing a bicycle. Many other states have laws requiring three feet as the minimum safe passing distance. New Mexico even requires five feet for passing.
  • The Washington State Driver’s Manual states:

The safety of bicycle riders on the road is a responsibility shared by both motorists and cyclists. All bicyclists have the same rights, duties, and responsibilities of a motor vehicle driver. Motorists and riders who don’t obey traffic laws can be ticketed.

Sharing the road with bicyclists - Over 39,000 bicyclists are killed or injured in the United States every year. If motorists and cyclists understand and obey the following state law, it will help make the roads safer for everyone:

  • Allow at least three feet of space when overtaking or passing a bicycle.
  • Pass to the left of a pedestrian or bicyclist that is on the right hand shoulder or bicycle lane at a distance that will clearly avoid coming into contact with them.
  • Do not return to the right side of the road until safely clear.
  • Do not drive on the left side of the roadway when you see an approaching pedestrian or bicyclist if the width of condition of the roadway, shoulder, or bicycle lane makes it unsafe.

Frequently Asked Questions

What do I do if I can’t give three feet?

Give ample space to the bicyclist until it is safe to pull around the bike with at least three feet to spare, usually at the end of the block or at a gap in parked cars. Remember, if the vehicle in front of you was a car, you wouldn’t be able to pass it until there was ample room either.

What happens if I’m on a one-lane road or residential street?

Many one-lane roads or alleys are not wide enough to pass a cyclist with three feet of space. Often residential streets have parking on two sides and only one driving lane. If these lanes are not wide enough to pass a cyclist safely, then wait until you can give a cyclist three feet -- at the end of the block or at a gap between parked cars.

What happens at a dedicated bicycle lane?

Some bicycle lanes in the city have parked cars on the inside edge or curb side. Experienced cyclists will ride on the white line or just to the left of the line so that they are three feet away from car doors that might open into them, thus avoiding getting hit by the door, or “doored”.

Why do some cyclists ride outside of the shoulder or in the traffic lane?

  • Cyclists should ride as near to the right side of the road as is safe except when making a turn or passing another vehicle.
  • In many situations, it is unsafe to ride to the right. For example, if debris or potholes are in the right shoulder, or if there are parked cars, the cyclist should ride to the left of these dangers.

If a cyclist is riding at or near the speed of traffic, usually on a downhill street, the cyclist might take the lane to be safer and more visible at driveways and intersections. This cyclist is not impeding traffic in this case.