Bicycle safety is near and dear to my heart. On Mother’s day, 2004, my best friend Ann Weatherill, was killed by a passing vehicle while we were riding our bikes with a group. This devastating experience made me a passionate advocate for cycling safety.
It was her death which helped lead to the Washington Safe Passing Law in 2005, which states that a driver approaching a pedestrian or bicycle on the right must pass at “a safe distance to clearly avoid coming into contact with the pedestrian or bicyclist.” The original legislation provided needed clarification and education on safe passing for Washington’s roads.
Motorists often don’t realize that passing a bicyclist too closely leaves no margin for error, especially at highway speeds. The three foot minimum gives a specific, easily understood minimum distance, not a vague “safe distance.” The 3-foot minimum not only gives drivers a safe distance standard, but raises their awareness to keep an eye out for bicyclists and pedestrians. All too often drivers are not looking for bicyclists and don’t notice them. Once drivers see bicyclists, the drivers can keep that safe 3-foot distance while passing. At least 22 states already have laws with three feet as the minimum safe distance for motorists to pass bicyclists and pedestrians.
I see the purpose of safe passing legislation as increasing awareness on the part of motorists to look for cyclists and pedestrians before they pass. The proposed 3 foot distance would result in fewer deaths and injuries as drivers will have a concrete guideline. This proposed change is all about prevention: there is no such thing as a “fender bender” between a car and a cyclist. This clarification of the law is needed to prevent needless tragedies.
Safe passing on Washington’s rural roads helps educate drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians what to expect on Washington’s rural roads – important as kids often walk on these roads to school. Similarly, as we continue to want to draw more tourism to towns across Washington, this is a valuable educational tool for safety to make sure that tourists and drivers have mutual expectations.