Michigan Senate Passes 5 Foot Safe Passing Bill for Bicycles

Three bills that were introduced in the wake of a June 7 accident in Holland that left 5 bicyclists dead passed the Michigan Senate on Thursday.

The bills would require vehicle drivers to give bicyclists at least five feet of space when they're passing them on the road. Another bill would require three hours of training in drivers' education classes dealing with bicycle and motorcycle safety.

The bills dealing with the five-feet requirement for drivers – SB 1076-1077 – passed without debate or discussion on votes of 34-2 with Sens. David Hildenbrand, R-Lowell, and Marty Knollenberg, R-Troy, voting against the bills, which now move to the state House of Representatives for consideration. The bill calling for bicycle safety to be included in drivers' education classes passed unanimously.

The relevant changes in the law that SB 1077 (2016) would add is shown below SB 1076 alters another section of law using the 5 foot distance:

ANALYSIS:  While this is a step in the right direction if this becomes law, it seems incomplete as far as enforcement.  In the Model Safe Passing Laws backed by most national and state bicycle organizations, an important section is added:  "The collision of a motor vehicle [while passing] with a person operating a bicycle is prima facie evidence of a violation of this section." 

"Prima facie" is a fancy way to say accepted as correct until proven otherwise, a strong legal statement meant to encourage law enforcement to press stiffer charges against motorists who injure or kill a bicyclist simply because they couldn't share the road or wait until it was safe to pass. 

Most states (26) have laws that require 2,3, or 4 ft. passing of bicycles, Michigan would be the first to enact a 5 ft. law (South Dakota has 6 ft. if car is traveling over 35 mph).  While this may sound safer, there really is no way to generally enforce the law against someone who passes with less than 5 ft. clearance unless it is witnessed directly by a police officer [and he decides to enforce it] or contact occurs.

This bill, still in its infant stage, could be also made many times better by including motorcycles, mopeds, personal assistive mobility devices, golf carts and ORVs (where applicable), and reducing the minimum passing distance to 3 feet. 

On an 8-9 ft. wide country road, coming up behind two bicyclists riding abreast (which is perfectly legal) or any of these other additions taking up most of the lane, simple mathematics says your 6 ft. wide vehicle cannot legally pass without driving off the road on the other side if you give a minimum of 5 ft. clearance. 

Whatever its final manifestation, if it ever becomes a law, this bill is a way overdue step in the right direction, as all too often those who strike bicyclists from behind or run them off the road face no penalties because of the legal loopholes currently existing.

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Replies to This Discussion

Did you know that a motorcyclist may drive between cars at stop signs and traffic lights in California? 

No 3ft rule required.  I was stopped at red traffic light with a large number of other vehicles when suddenly a motorcycle drove between me and the vehicle next to me.  There was barely 4ft between me and the other vehicle.  Had I opened my car door to spit or something then that motorcyclist would have been injured.

I understand bicycle safety.  But what about bicyclists who fail to comply?  I've had bicyclists dart out in front of me and I had to ease off the gas pedal even though I was going slower than actual speed limit.

I think bicycles should be banned from 55 mph highways that have more than two lanes (one lane each direction.)   Better yet, ban bicycles from all highways entirely.  If bicyclists want to use the road then let them campaign together for bicycle-only lanes.  I have to believe there are enough bicyclists everywhere that the law-makers would be forced to enact legislation to accomplish it.

California is the only state that allows lane-sharing of motorcycles, and it does seem like a dangerous practice, but it is sane policy for some areas out there due to the fact of the frequent traffic congestion and the health problems a motorcyclist would get from lingering for hours whiffing car exhaust (not to mention potential heat prostration). 

Bicyclists who violate your right-of-way should suffer the same consequences than if a motor vehicle did, though it should be noted that motorists should always be alert to pedestrians and bicyclists who seem disoriented, very young, or very old and proceed by them cautiously and slowly.  Their mistake may cost them their life, yours may only leave a dent (and perhaps a lingering effect on your conscience).

I am of the belief that bicycles are properly prohibited from limited access highways, but should be allowed everywhere else.  Bicycle lanes are totally superfluous, and yet they seem to be totally supported by bike advocates, and motorists who aren't concerned about the economics of making millions of miles of bike lanes.  Common sense and science says that these lanes are often more dange... than just keeping bikes on the road, so you won't see me calling for bike lanes, when you can save billions of dollars by just educating drivers about bicyclists rights to the road.

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