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Wednesday, October 01 2014 @ 10:19 PM UTC

What the 3' law says and doesn't say

Bike LawsI've notice a lot of poor summaries of our new 3' law so I will make an attempt to clarify. But I will note that it really irks me that our ride right law mostly gets summarized as one line with none of the exceptions mentioned but our 3' law has to mention all the exceptions, this bias fails to inform motorist where we are legally allowed to ride and seems to overly imply that motorists do not have to take due care when they encounter a cyclist on the roadway.

The law as written:
§ 21-1209. Throwing object at bicycle, motor scooter, or EPAMD.
(a) Drivers to exercise due care.- Notwithstanding any other provision of this title, the driver of a vehicle shall:
.(1) Exercise due care to avoid colliding with any bicycle, EPAMD, or motor scooter being ridden by a person; and
.(2) When overtaking a bicycle, an EPAMD, or a motor scooter, pass safely at a distance of not less than 3 feet, unless, at the time:
..(i) The bicycle, EPAMD, or motor scooter rider fails to operate the vehicle in conformance with § 21-1205(a) of this subtitle ("Riding to right side of roadway") or § 21-1205.1(b) of this subtitle ("Roadway with bike lane or shoulder paved to smooth surface");
..(ii) A passing clearance of less than 3 feet is caused solely by the bicycle, EPAMD, or motor scooter rider failing to maintain a steady course; or
..(iii) The highway on which the vehicle is being driven is not wide enough to lawfully pass the bicycle, EPAMD, or motor scooter at a distance of at least 3 feet.
(b) Throwing objects.- A person may not throw any object at or in the direction of any person riding a bicycle, an EPAMD, or a motor scooter.
(c) Opening doors with intent to strike, injure, etc.- A person may not open the door of any motor vehicle with intent to strike, injure, or interfere with any person riding a bicycle, an EPAMD, or a motor scooter.
(d) Yielding right-of-way.- Unless otherwise specified in this title, the driver of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way to a person who is lawfully riding a bicycle, an EPAMD, or a motor scooter in a designated bike lane or shoulder if the driver of the vehicle is about to enter or cross the designated bike lane or shoulder.

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Now lets break down the new bits
(2) When overtaking a bicycle, an EPAMD, or a motor scooter, pass safely at a distance of not less than 3 feet, unless, at the time:

Poor summary: When overtaking a bicyclist, motorists must pass at a distance of three feet, with important exceptions:

Better summary: Motorists must pass safely at a distance of not less than three feet when overtaking a cyclist unless:

Discussion: It's not exactly 3' for passing and passing safely is important too.

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(i) The bicycle, EPAMD, or motor scooter rider fails to operate the vehicle in conformance with § 21-1205(a) of this subtitle ("Riding to right side of roadway") or § 21-1205.1(b) of this subtitle ("Roadway with bike lane or shoulder paved to smooth surface");

Poor summary: If the bicyclist fails to ride to the right,
Poor summary: If the bicyclist is in a Bike Lane, [note that the "fails to operate in conformance with" clause is mistakenly dropped.]

Better summary: If the cyclists is riding in an unlawful manner, [(alternate:) If the cyclist is riding against traffic,]

Discussion: § 21-1205(a) is ride to the right with exceptions that include making a left turn, hazards and a lane too narrow to share, so basically they want to give a lawful cyclist protection and exclude cyclists riding against traffic. § 21-1205.1(b) is the mandatory bike lane law with exceptions such as hazards and not paved to a smooth surface (frequent complaint of the Roland Ave bike lane.) (full text of these laws at the end of this article.) This was meant to be a continuation of a lawful cyclist but poor summaries has has introduced a problem, do you or do you not give 3' to a cyclist in a bike lane or shoulder? The correct answer is you give '3 feet to any lawfully riding cyclists, period. I will assert that a driver may not be aware of conditions that would make the cyclist ride further left so they still must pass with at least 3' unless they are darn sure no exceptions apply or better yet just tell motorists that 3' passing does not apply to a clear cut case of wrong way riding and let the police sort out the details in other cases.

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(ii) A passing clearance of less than 3 feet is caused solely by the bicycle, EPAMD, or motor scooter rider failing to maintain a steady course; or

Poor summary: If the bicyclist doesn't keep a steady course,

Better summary: Clearance of less than 3 feet is caused solely by the bicyclist,

Discussion: Clearly a motorist should not be held responsible for violating 3' if it is caused by the cyclist but to imply it's fine to pass an erratic cyclist with less then 3' is over the top on what's called for. (I find it interesting that they did not choose the primary clause but the secondary clause here.)

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(iii) The highway on which the vehicle is being driven is not wide enough to lawfully pass the bicycle, EPAMD, or motor scooter at a distance of at least 3 feet.

Poor summary: If the roadway is not wide enough for the motorist to pass legally at a distance of three feet.

Better summary: [nothing at all] [alternate: On one lane country roads (not two lanes,) the safe passing rules are different so the three foot rule is not applicable.]

Discussion: All this says is the driver cannot be charged with a 3' violation, it does not say the driver cannot be charged with reckless endangerment or failure to yield or other appropriate violation(s). In short this is NOT permission for a motorist to pass under these circumstances. This section does not say yea or nay about driver behavior only that a 3' violation is not applicable under these circumstances. Also note the poor summary changed highway (larger space) to roadway (less space) resulting in some improper interpretations in the vernacular.

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Summary: WABA has this to say "With this law, it becomes more important to “take the lane” whenever it is too narrow to safely share side-by-side, because otherwise you do not have the legal right to the 3-foot buffer." And I will agree to that under a legal view point but if this law continues to be summarized poorly only those riding far right will have this protection but if there is a mediocre width shoulder nobody has any good standing with this law as summarized poorly.

This is just sad as I would have hoped the new 3' law would give more protection to both the "take the lane" (when lawful) and those that choose to ride far right to be courteous to motorists but the law and poor summaries is making the new law very convoluted on where exactly a rider needs to be to get 3' protection. So I will assert that summaries must be closer to the legal view point by rewording then just dropping words from the law as written to make it shorter (but losing any resemblance to its true meaning in the process.)

Lastly if you find any poor summaries please report them here and we will try and get them fixed.

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§ 21-1205. Riding on roadways or on highway.
(a) Riding to right side of roadway.- Each person operating a bicycle or a motor scooter at a speed less than the speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing on a roadway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable and safe, except when:
.(1) Making or attempting to make a left turn;
.(2) Operating on a one-way street;
.(3) Passing a stopped or slower moving vehicle;
.(4) Avoiding pedestrians or road hazards;
.(5) The right lane is a right turn only lane; or
.(6) Operating in a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle or motor scooter and another vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.


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§ 21-1205.1. Bicycles, motor scooters, and EPAMDs prohibited on certain roadways and highways; speed limit.
(b) Roadway with bike lane or shoulder paved to smooth surface.-
.(1) Where there is not a bike lane paved to a smooth surface, a person operating a bicycle or a motor scooter may use the roadway or the shoulder.
.(2) Where there is a bike lane paved to a smooth surface, a person operating a bicycle or a motor scooter shall use the bike lane and may not ride on the roadway, except in the following situations:
..(i) When overtaking and passing another bicycle, motor scooter, pedestrian, or other vehicle within the bike lane if the overtaking and passing cannot be done safely within the bike lane;
..(ii) When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into an alley, private road, or driveway;
..(iii) When reasonably necessary to leave the bike lane to avoid debris or other hazardous condition; or
..(iv) When reasonably necessary to leave the bike lane because the bike lane is overlaid with a right turn lane, merge lane, or other marking that breaks the continuity of the bike lane.
.(3) A person operating a bicycle or a motor scooter may not leave a bike lane until the movement can be made with reasonable safety and then only after giving an appropriate signal.
.(4) The Department shall adopt regulations pertaining to this subsection, including a definition of "smooth surface".

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1 comments

The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
There has been some buzz that this exception to the three foot passing law means drivers do not have to give us three feet when passing over the double yellow.

(iii) The highway on which the vehicle is being driven is not wide enough to lawfully pass the bicycle, EPAMD, or motor scooter at a distance of at least 3 feet.

I think I unraveled the logical problem here, let's try this on for size:

Let's start here with by replacing "lawfully" with "not unlawfully" so we get: "3' passing except when the highway is NOT wide enough to NOT unlawfully pass the bicycle." We have a tendency to remove double negatives to make sense of a sentence. 
So if you remove the two negatives you get "3' passing except when the highway is wide enough to unlawfully pass the bicycle."
The problem is that is not a double negative but we could factor out the negatives like this "3' passing except NOT (when the highway is wide enough to unlawfully pass the bicycle.) "  
Now we can remove the double negative to get "3' passing (required) when the highway is wide enough to unlawfully pass the bicycle."

This is logically consistent with what we started with.

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