Like a lot of states, Georgia has a 3 foot law that requires cars and trucks to leave a distance of at least 3 feet when passing a bicyclist. The advent of the 3 foot law should have been a tremendous benefit to the safety of the many riders on the roads in Georgia, particularly in the Atlanta area where we have (a) a whole lot of cars and (b) not a lot of protected or dedicated bike lanes.
I say “should have been” because I’ve come to question both the driving public’s awareness of the 3 foot requirement and the enforceability of this law. To me, it’s similar to the law prohibiting texting while driving. That’s a great law that serves a very meaningful purpose in letting driver’s know that there are huge fines if they’re driving while distracted by text messaging. Yet in the 5 years since the texting law passed, I’ve never seen a single case of anyone getting a citation for driving while texting. The reason is that the law, while well intentioned, is nearly impossible to enforce. Unless a driver admits to texting, there’s no way for a police officer to tell if someone’s bad driving is the result of texting versus any other cause. Besides, dialing a number into a phone while driving is legal but text messaging is not. How is an officer supposed to tell the difference? Is there even a difference from the standpoint of driver distraction?
Similarly, how can the police tell if someone violates the 3 foot law? The obvious cases are ones where a bicyclist is taken down by a side view mirror as a car passes but beyond that circumstance, unless the police officer is a witness, how is the officer to enforce the law? Additionally, when pressed on the subject, it’s apparent that both drivers and (sadly) a lot of law enforcement in this area aren’t even aware that the 3 foot law exists.
Well, here’s something new that serves the multiple purposes of both educating the driving public about the existence of the 3 foot law and documenting specific violations of the law. It also creates some great “teachable moments” where both motorists, cyclists and law enforcement work together to help make the roads friendlier for everyone. This pilot program that started in Chattanooga helps their police department give meaning to the 3 foot law in Tennessee. The first step is to record driver’s violating the law. The second step is for law enforcement (usually in plain clothes and on a bicycle) to confront those drivers, advise them of their violation, explain the law and issue a warning or, if necessary, a traffic ticket. The third step is additional education for those drivers who have their cases resolved in the Court.
I love this program. I’ll be talking to my friends in various Georgia advocacy groups about seeing if we can get a program started like this. With good communication between cyclists, local police departments and advocacy groups, this seems like something that could be done quickly and effectively. It’s too good an idea not to give it a try.
Let’s see what we can do to give the 3 foot law some meaning and to make the roads safer for all riders.