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More Room for Bikers with the Passage of Another 3-Foot Pass Law

The family of Amy Bennett pushed hard to get the measure passed. Bike Law is honored to represent them.

Earlier this week, another state legislature voted in favor of a bill that will protect bicyclists from being clipped from behind by passing cars and trucks. The Wyoming bill dubbed HB-85 requires motorists to give bicyclists at least 3-feet of clearance when passing them on the road. The bill awaits Wyoming Governor Matt Mead’s signature, and it was passed by an overwhelming majority in both the Wyoming house and senate.

The success of Wyoming’s HB-85 can be attributed to the family of Amy Bennett who was sadly killed by a tractor trailer in Jackson, Wyoming, while riding her bike. Bike Law is honored to represent the family.  Terry Bennett, Amy’s father, formed an online petition for the passage of Wyoming’s HB-85 after his daughter’s death, and the family lobbied hard to get the measure passed.  Mr. Bennett told the Jackson Hole News & Guide that he believes his daughter would be alive today if the law had already been on the books prior to her death.

When Wyoming’s HB-85 is signed into law, Wyoming will join the ranks of at least 25 other states in the United States that have enacted 3-foot bike passing laws, according to The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). A few other states require motorists by law to pass bicyclists “at a safe distance,” as shown by NCSL’s records, while at least 17 states still have their heads buried in asphalt with no specific laws for motorists passing bicycles on the road.

As such, the passage of Wyoming’s HB-85 marks a huge success for cyclists. We have clearly passed the halfway point on the passage of 3-foot pass laws in the states. Compliance with 3-foot pass laws will undoubtedly save lives, but we’re still a long way from giving cyclists the protection they need on the road, even in states with such laws. Wyoming’s HB-85 is a perfect example of a “paper tiger” as described by the D.C. Circuit Court in the landmark environmental law case, Calvert Cliffs’ Coordinating Committee Inc. v. United States Atomic Energy.

That basically means the Wyoming bill lacks claws and teeth in terms of enforcement. Put differently, a motorist in Wyoming will not be punished for failure to comply with the requirements of the law. Also, the bill ambiguously requires motorists to provide cyclists with a 3-foot buffer when passing only “when space allows” and when the bicyclist is “operating lawfully.” The Wyoming legislature added these terms as final edits to the bill before its passage, and neither of them is defined in the bill’s text.

As a result, Wyoming’s HB-85, at the very least, is intended to spark awareness among motorists about the proper distance for passing cyclists on the road, and at best, it will be taken into consideration when police investigate crashes between cars and bikes, and when the rights of injured cyclists are defended in court.

Of course, more awareness about bike safety is always good, especially when it is generated by a state legislature in a generally conservative state where biking is growing in popularity. But, the trouble with public awareness laws, like Wyoming’s HB-85, is that they’re easily forgotten. With no real punishment to keep violators of the law in check, they’re left free to go without so much as a slap on the wrist unless a serious injury or deadly accident occurs.

So, until more bike laws with claws and teeth are on the books, cyclists have a duty to remind motorist of the law in a courteous fashion. They should carry themselves on their bikes in a way that makes the law obvious and easy to follow.

John Mizerek, the founder of the 3-Feet Please Campaign has worked hard to generate awareness about 3-foot pass laws. The campaign, according to its website, is not about “painting the motorist as the bad guy. [T]he key is to lay down the rules for all parties[. . .] [H]old people accountable. . . including cyclists.”

The group even sells a neon yellow cycling kit that has written on it a 3-foot pass law reminder for motorists. Also, some states like California have started posting signs about their 3-foot pass laws. But, signs can only be located in so many places, and as suggested by the 3-Feet Please Campaign, the actions of cyclists will always speak louder than the words printed on their jerseys.

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