Michigan Legislators Decide Motorists Need 3-Foot Distance to Pass Bikes

May 25, 2018

Michigan drivers would have to allow 3 feet of clearance or a “safe passing distance” while going by a bike on the road as part of a legislative compromise that could reach the governor soon.

The Senate voted 36-1 this week for the 3-foot requirement and 37-0 to require that the state’s initial teen driver education course include at least one hour of classroom instruction on laws pertaining to bikes, motorcycles and vulnerable roadways users, including pedestrians. Current law requires a component on bike and motorcycle laws but does not specify that a minimum amount of time be devoted to it.

Michigan is among 11 states with no “safe passing” law, and bicyclists have been lobbying lawmakers to act. After the House in March approved the 3-foot berth, the Senate backed away from its original proposed 5-foot distance.

“Each week, I open the news and it seems like another bicyclist has been hit by a motorist,” said Sen. Margaret O’Brien, a Republican from Portage. Her district had one of the country’s deadliest vehicle-bike crashes when a pickup truck driver under the influence of drugs hit a group of nine cyclists in 2016 near Kalamazoo, killing five.

She said “3 feet is a great start,” and law enforcement could ticket motorists for violating it. Local police could still enforce 5-foot ordinances in communities that have enacted them, she said.

The main bill would let drivers pass a cyclist in a no-passing zone if it is safe to do so.

“We’re hoping that drivers will understand they have a legal right and consequence to share the road,” O’Brien said.

She expressed disappointment that the bike-safety package does not also include bills to target distracted driving. Legislation in the House and Senate would impose tough new penalties for distracted motorists who cause serious injury or death while using a mobile device and update a ban against texting while driving to also include using a computer, tablet device, camera or other internet-based communication device.

“I’m going to continue to learn what the concerns are, why those bills haven’t moved forward,” O’Brien said.

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