Virginia's 3 Foot Passing Law

As of July 1st, 2014, Virginia law states that a motorist “shall pass at a reasonable speed at least three feet to the left of the overtaken bicycle.” We added the emphasis, as the previous law required drivers to pass people on bikes by only two feet. Virginia joins 23 other states and the District of Colombia in having a three foot passing law. Pennsylvania sets the minimum to pass as four feet.

Arlington road users already know that the best way to share the road is by being a PAL- Predictable, Alert and Lawful. Slowing down and giving enough space to vulnerable road users just makes sense.

If you want to help spread the word, you can even order up a nifty “3 Feet Please!” bumper sticker from DriveSmart VA by heading to the “Share the Road” section here.

Below is a good visual on what 3 feet looks like when passing a bike. There's also an FAQ with more information and even some tips for when you're behind the wheel.

3 ft visual safe unsafe

FAQ:
How can drivers tell whether they are giving a bike three feet of clearance?
The best tip we have come across is for the driver to adjust the position of their vehicle so that the driver’s seat straddles the center line. You can see that in the photo below, or click the photo to view a YouTube video and see it in action.

GA 3 Feet

How will this law be enforced?
Arlington and State police have said that they will be looking for this violation, as they do with all sections of the Virginia Code. A driver observed to be in violation of the law can be cited. Many drivers will obey the law and some won’t—and they won’t be caught. That is a problem with enforcement and not with the law itself.

What will the penalties for violating this law be?
As SB 97 was a change to the Virginia Code, we can assume that it will be treated similarly to other violations.
This would mean that if a driver were ticketed for violating the three foot passing law, they could be fined $35 with a $51 processing fee, for a total fine of $81. As well, depending on if cited for “improper passing” or “passing when unsafe”, a driver could face points on their license (3 or 4 points, respectively).

How would drivers give bicyclists three feet of clearance on roads that are too narrow?
Sometimes, as the driver of a motor vehicle, you may have to wait for an opportunity to pass, just as you do now with slower moving cars or trucks. Passing with three feet may require you to cross the center line, so you'll need to make sure you have a good view of oncoming traffic before you make your move. SB 97 requires a driver to slow down to a reasonable speed and pass only when safe to do so. Once the other lane is clear, the driver can safely cross the center line to give the biker three feet of clearance on a narrow road.

Why do we need a law just about passing bicyclists?
Plenty of traffic laws reflect the fact that many road users are particularly vulnerable in the event of a collision with a passing car. Much of this has been taken into consideration when creating the Vehicle Code, which is why drivers have special speed limits and passing rules when approaching schools, crosswalks, school buses, emergency vehicles and road crews.

Sources:
Fine schedule: http://www.courts.state.va.us/courts/scv/amendments_tracked/rule_3b_2_uniform_fine%20_schedule.pdf
Moving Violations and Point Assessment: http://www.dmv.virginia.gov/webdoc/pdf/dmv115.pdf
VA Code: http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+TOC46020000008000000000000
Article about which states have three foot passing laws: http://www.ncsl.org/research/transportation/safely-passing-bicyclists.aspx

Did You Know?

Each U.S. rush-hour auto commuter spends an average of 50 hours a year stuck in traffic.

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