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Why You Need 3 Feet of Clearance When Passing Cyclists in Illinois

Published on Aug 2, 2019 at 5:03 pm in Bicycle Accidents.

In cities like Chicago, bicycle commuters have increased by 150 percent between 2000 and 2012. In that same timespan, there were over 9,000 bicycle crashes that resulted in injuries in Chicago, alone. With more people riding bicycles to exercise, save money or be environmentally friendly, bicycle safety is more important than ever.

With the increase of bicyclists and car-versus-bike accidents, Ride Illinois proposed and lobbied for new legislation (Bicycle Traffic Bill HB1784) in 2017 that permits passing of bicyclists in no-passing zones. This was passed and went into effect in the beginning of 2018. Under this new law, a car can pass a bicycle if the situation meets all the following criteria:

  • The bicycle is travelling at a speed of less than half the posted speed limit;
  • The driver can pass the bicycle without exceeding posted speed limit;
  • There is ample distance to the left of the center line;
  • The driver can give the bicycle at least 3 feet clearance

The purpose of these amendments was to decrease bicycle versus car accidents, keep the flow of traffic moving, and reduce tensions between drivers and bicyclists.  The “3 feet” or “safe passing” laws seek to ensure that when passing bicycles, motor vehicles allow sufficient space to avoid making contact with, sideswiping or causing bicyclists to overcorrect their path to avoid a vehicle.

Though many considered it a safe practice, passing cyclists by drifting into the other lane was technically illegal.  Before the bill was passed, a car might not have been able to legally pass a bike for a long time because they needed to wait until they reached a passing zone, or until the shoulder was wide enough to leave a safe distance between them and the cyclist. This caused traffic problems because drivers ended up illegally crossing double yellow lines to pass or slowed down to stay behind cyclists.  This held up traffic.  Some drivers chose to engage in even more dangerous activity – failing to leave enough room while passing the bicyclist, which risked hitting and injuring cyclists.

3 Feet of Clearance Law

If you can’t visualize 3 feet, stretch one of your arms straight out to the side. Typically, that’s about 3 feet.  Allowing a minimum of 3 feet between your car and a cyclist ensures that the biker is far enough away so that the vehicle does not make contact with them even if their arm was stretched straight out. A paved shoulder is typically 4 feet wide, so drivers should have enough room to pass a cyclist who is on the shoulder.  Even when the cyclist is riding on the shoulder, you should still make sure there is at least 3 feet of clearance.

It is also important to maintain that distance until you have completely passed the cyclist. Erring on the side of caution is best while passing a bicyclist.

If a driver failed to follow the criteria to safely pass you on your bicycle and caused an accident, you we may be able to help.  At Krzak Rundio Gorman, Injury Attorneys, we stand ready guide you through this tough time and defend your rights as a cyclist.

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