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Initial Observations on the Passage of Michigan’s 3′ Law for Passing a Cyclist – and Why the Legislature got it Right


Michigan didn’t have a hard and fast rule on distance required to pass a cyclist until Wednesday-ish.

The law won’t take affect till August of this year but I noticed a difference already, yesterday. I went out with the owner of our local shop and my best cycling bud, Mike for a 29 miler and was amazed by the fair clearance we were given. Amazed.

First, I think the Michigan legislature got it right with the law, exactly right.

Some advocates have been pushing for five feet and that’s been stalled in our Senate.  Five feet of clearance is too much in my humble opinion. I ride in scenarios several times a week that would make passing our group virtually impossible requiring almost half a lane’s clearance to pass. If we’re riding in a double pace-line, as is legal per Michigan’s current law, an extra five feet is hard to come by, let alone judge. Three feet? Easy enough.  As a construction professional with more than twenty years experience – I am acutely aware of the difference between three and five feet.

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Also, and the importance of this cannot be understated, the new law allows motorists to cross a double yellow to pass a cyclist when safe.  Believe it or not, there are motorists out there who would choose to buzz a cyclist (pass within less than a foot of a cyclist) to keep their vehicle inside the double yellow but get by a cyclist.  Technically this is the cyclist’s fault as a motorist shouldn’t be given enough room to squeeze by in the lane – the cyclist technically shouldn’t ride that close to the shoulder of the road but it is in our nature to not want to “be in the way”.  This observation of mine, that these motorists exist, is based on not only on supposition.  I’ve chased more than a couple down.  On my bicycle.  They were quite honest at being challenged, too.  “Well, I had to get by you and I can’t cross the double yellow”.  In that particular case I was riding at 22 mph in a 25 mph zone and the motorist “had to get by me”.  Folks, the mirror on his truck missed my head by inches.  If I’d have turned my head at the wrong time, God knows.  That provision is greatly needed for motorists.  In fact, I regularly cross a double yellow when safe to get by a cyclist or pedestrian no matter what the law says anyway.  It’s just the right thing to do and I’d rather get a ticket than crowd a vulnerable road user.

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To wrap this up, the law is good for us, just a day after its passage in the State House and before it’s even gone into effect.  I never would have guessed it would be so noticeable, so soon, but I can’t ever remember having so much room on a ride.  Heck, we even had cars wait for us to turn at a four-way stop intersection…  I almost played the lotto based on that alone!

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6 Comments

  1. ericritter65 says:

    Yeah, I’ve had the luck to have lived in States that have always had this 3-foot law, it works most of the time. I still find it funny that States still have the can not pass on a double yellow line, as in my home State of Pennsylvania, the double yellow line only mean pass at your own risk, they use “No Passing Zone” signage if you can’t pass. This makes much more sense to me.

  2. biking2work says:

    I regularly live your supposition. Many times cars pass too close to me while staying in the lane when no oncoming traffic. This seems a great law (if enforced) based on doing the right thing

  3. Archetype says:

    Personally, I don’t think the legislation is useful WITHOUT proper infrastructure. I think it is a waste of time, money and energy to pass a 3′ or 4′ law, when most roads cannot accommodate 3 feet anyway, let alone 4 feet wide. When people for bikes was on a crusade for a 4′ law in NJ, I laughed.

    I protested to everyone of the cyclists who cheered for this. Here in NJ, 80% of the roadways do NOT have a shoulder more than 12″. Most others only have a shoulder 2′ wide. For a driver to give a 4′ berth would mean going into an oncoming lane. Which, of course is ILLEGAL! It makes zero sense. Drivers are reluctant to crossover, to stop or give way to cyclists to begin with.

    The answer does not lie initially with making a 3′ or 4′ rule. The ANSWER is providing the proper infrastructure FIRST, then passing the appropriate laws. Once a law is in place, there is little to no incentive for the scumbag, POS government to make proper bikes lanes. They will simply say, hey the law is there, we did our part to “Protect” the cyclists. It’s bullshit Jim, it’s lip service at best by politicians taking bribe and campaign money from the oil and auto lobbies. No one in the bicycle industry is bribing the POS politicians for bike lanes. No, donations… no lanes. Not as long as the auto and oil cartels loom large.

    The industry and the government needs to take a cue from Europe and other countries that have proper biking lanes. Except for a few large cities here in the states, most states and towns lack useful biking lanes. NJ is a shining example of the dominance of the automobile and a complete lack of consideration for cyclists; commuters, casual riders and the competitive riders as well. We need to change the mindset. MORE paper laws in our society are NEVER the answer my friend.

    • bgddyjim says:

      I agree to an extent. First, our roads (in Michigan) allow for 3′, maybe even 4′ – but the dopes at PfB were lobbying for 5′ which was, as you say, stupid.

      Anyway, the idea is for motorists to pass in the other lane when a shoulder isn’t present. Otherwise, if you give a motorist too much space, they’ll try to squeeze by which means they crowd the cyclst too much, sometimes resulting in a crash.

      In Michigan, they fixed the old yellow line conundrum. They allowed for motorists to cross the double yellow to pass cyclists “when safe to do so”.

      Other than that, I pretty much agree with you. I’d much rather shoulders and bike lanes than riding on the road surface.

      • Archetype says:

        Yes, Michigan has made some progress indeed. Unlike here. The double yellow means no passing unless there is an emergency situation. States need to be somewhat on the same page when it comes to bicycle rider and pedestrian safety!

      • bgddyjim says:

        I see your point but I think they did it right with our 3′ Law.

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