September 1, 2016
Minimum safe passing distance
The ‘minimum safe passing distance’ refers to the space that vehicles must maintain when overtaking or passing a cyclist. But what is considered a ‘safe distance’ and is it sufficient? Although we are sure we all agree that there should be a safe distance; exact rules, legislation, and definitions differ per country or state.
Rules and Regulations
Legislation and regulations differ from country to country and sometimes from state to state. Here is an overview of the different rules and definitions practiced in America, Australia and parts of the United Kingdom.
27 states in America practice a 3-feet safe passing distance, while 10 states operate on an unspecified safe passing distance rule, much like England. This means that the driver gives the cyclist as much space as he or she deems a ‘safe passing’ distance. Pennsylvania operate on a 4-feet minimum safe passing distance, North Carolina has a 2-feet passing distance while the remaining 11 states do not have laws or rules for passing motorcyclists and cyclists safely.
Rules 163, 211, 212 and 213 set out the precautions that drivers and cyclists should take when passing each other on the roads. These include looking both ways, not getting ‘too close’, using your mirrors, signaling appropriately and staying in your lane. There is no reference to a specific distance that is to be maintained between passing cars and cyclists or motorcyclists.
Australian Capital Territory: Currently on a two year trial of the ‘metre matters’ rule that requires drivers to provide a minimum distance of one metre when overtaking a cyclist in speed zones at or below 60km/h and 1.5 metres in speed zones above 60km/h. The trial started on the 1st of November in 2015.
Tasmania: Maintain at least one metre in speed zones up to 60km/h and 1.5 metres in zones above 60km/h from bike riders. It is important to keep a safe distance when passing a bike rider and it is legal to cross centre lines when safe to do so. – Road Safety Advisory Council
New South Wales: Drivers will need to give bicycle riders at least 1 metre of space when passing. – NSW Centre for Road Safety
Northern Territory: Keep a safe distance and leave at least 1m when overtaking cyclists if travelling under 60km/h. Leave at least 2m if travelling more than 70km/h. – Northern Territory Government
Victoria: Under investigation and a Bill is being considered. – Parliament of Victoria
South Australia: Drivers are required to give a minimum of one metre when passing a cyclist where the speed limit is 60 km/h or less or 1.5 metres where the speed limit is over 60 km/h. – Government of Sout Australia
Western Australia: Motorists must keep a safe distance from cyclists when overtaking (it is advised to provide at least one metre clearance from the side of your vehicle. If it is not possible to overtake with one metre clearance, slow down and do not overtake until it safe to do so). – Road Safety Commission WA
Queensland: Motorists must stay wider of bicycle riders by giving a minimum of: 1m when passing a bicycle rider in a 60km/h or less speed zone or 1.5m where the speed limit is over 60km/h. – Queensland Government
On occassion, a little more space would be nice
We all want space when using public roads, but we have to make sure that we give it to others too. Every road user is obliged to know the regulations. However, with safe passing distance practices, it seems many are unaware of the exact regulation and the ‘scare factor’ (and danger!) that cyclists experience when safe passing distances are not adhered to. Every week our cameras catch incidents and unnecessary behavior. The video below is just a snapshot of some of the close calls that have been sent to us.
Sharing (the road) is caring
Help raise awareness for safe passing distance by getting involved. Find local community movements in your area that are raising awareness and see how you can help them or how you can get involved. Keep up to date with any new laws or current regulations with national bicycling safety organizations- such as The League of American Bicyclists and connect with organizations such as People for Bikes or Safe Routes to School.
As a cyclist, also take care that you are aware of your own road use and behavior. Make sure that you adhere to all of rules and regulations of the cycle paths and any roads you may ride on, signal clearly and appropriately, ride with care and be aware of your surroundings.
We can only create a safe environment if we all share the road together and take each other into consideration.
Do you live outside of the USA, Australia or the UK? What are your safe passing distance rules? Let us know what they are in the comments below.