Bicyclists rally to make 3 feet safe passing state law

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A city ordinance that Austin’s had for 10 years is now getting attention at the state level.

In Austin and about two dozen other Texas cities, if you’re driving and you want to pass a bicyclist or pedestrian who’s sharing the road with you, you’re required to leave at least three feet between you and them as you pass. For larger trucks, it’s six feet.

House Bill 962 filed last week aims to impose those requirements statewide.

“Every one of those cities in Texas, the City Council, including Austin’s, said when they passed it, we want to show the State Legislature this should be a state law,” said Robin Stallings, Executive Director of Bike Texas.

Bicyclists say even though three feet doesn’t sound like much, it does make a difference.

Prabhu Kannan said, “There’s a lot of air flow pushing, and when you’re on your little bike, it can cause a lot of drift for you.”

Austin Police Officer Rheannon Cunningham said, the three feet is measured from the outer most part of your vehicle. That means for a car, that’s likely your sideview mirror, and for bicycles, it’s like the handle bars. 

“I do feel like for the most part a lot of drivers are doing it right,” she said. “If they’re paying attention and most people don’t want to get into a collision and hit a cyclist, so therefore, they’re doing a pretty good job.”

But Cunningham added she often encounters people who don’t know about the ordinance. 

“I feel like even today, even though it’s been effect for almost 10 years, a lot of people, what I run across is they just didn’t know it was there,” she said. 

Austin passed its ordinance in 2009.

That same year, state lawmakers approved the Safe Passing legislation, but it was vetoed by then-Governor Rick Perry. 

In Austin, Stallings said the ordinance has been helpful at keeping people safe. “We’ve had an increase in serious injuries and fatalities, however, the increase of bicycles is more than the increase of fatalities.”

According to the Austin Police Department, APD investigated two deadly crashes last year involving bicycles. In 2017, the agency investigated four, and in 2016 and 2015, it reported two deadly bicycle crashes each year. 

Kannan said more should be done to raise awareness.

“They have those boards up that talk about traffic laws and things, so maybe having more, on those flashing signs say give cyclist a break. I think that would be helpful.”

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