Location: Missouri

Missouri Debates 3-Foot Passing Law

Lawmakers in the state of Missouri are once again considering a law that would require motorists to pass bicycles by at least three feet:

The Bicycle Safety Bill sponsored by Rep. Mike Sutherland and supported by MoBikeFed in 2005 originally included a 3 foot minimum passing distance. However, at the insistence of the insurance industry–who feared a specific, concrete legal requirement would lead to more claims against their customers–the specific three foot requirement was removed at that time.

Missouri’s current law simply states that motorists “shall leave a safe distance, when passing the bicycle, and shall maintain clearance until safely past the overtaken bicycle.”

Most motorists already pass bicyclists with a distance greater than three feet. However the addition of the three foot language to Missouri law would help clarify the issue of exactly what motorists are doing wrong when it comes to court cases. [ read more from the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation ]

And the debate is not just in halls of government. Everyday cyclists are voicing their opinions as well.

Over at Carbon Trace, Andy Cline opposes the bill and makes an interesting argument (HB 1250 Must Be Stopped): “I know there are many well-meaning bicycle advocates that think this law is a good idea. I respectfully disagree. I base my opinion on experience riding in traffic. While 3 feet might be fine if a car is passing at 25 mph, it is most certainly too close at 45 mph. This law treats all roads, speeds, and traffic conditions equally. It is far better that HB1250 fail than we end up with a 3-foot law.”

In I Want More Than Three Feet, he writes: “While it may seem that such a law seeks to protect bicyclists, I think it will instead make us less safe. Three feet is not enough room. But three feet is all you’ll get once drivers learn there’s a “3-foot law” in Missouri. In other words, cars will begin passing you closer!”

What do you think?

Does specifying a minimum passing distance actually encourage motorists to pass you closer than if the wording of the law is the vague “safe passing distance”?

For what it’s worth, there are currently 14 states — Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin — currently have 3-foot passing laws on the books, and several more (including Missouri and Iowa) are working towards some version of such a law (see More states consider 3-foot bicycle-passing laws in 2010 from BikingBis).

Here in Kansas, I don’t believe lawmakers have ever officially considered the issue. Ideas have been floated (see Kansas Bicycle Safety Law Proposal), but that’s as far as it’s gotten so far…

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About The Author

By Randy Rasa, editor/webmaster at Kansas Cyclist, the web's premier Kansas cycling information site, featuring authoritative guides to Kansas cycling clubs, bike shops, organized bike rides, touring, trails, and much more. [learn more]

One response to “Missouri Debates 3-Foot Passing Law”

  1. I would have to disagree with the objection that the proposed law treats all roads, speeds, and traffic conditions equally. 3 Foot safe passing distance laws specify a minimum safe passing distance; no motorist may legally pass a cyclist at a distance closer than 3 feet.

    However, the motorist would still be required to take conditions (including road, speed, and traffic conditions, along with other conditions, such as weather) into account when passing, and depending on conditions, may be required by law to pass at a distance greater than 3 feet.

    That aspect of the existing law doesn’t change under the new law. What does change is that nobody can argue that a pass closer than 3 feet is “legal.”