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Austin Ramps Up Enforcement of Passing Law

Austin, Texas, is “putting a bite” in its 3-foot passing law.

The City of Austin passed a 3-foot law back in 2009, but — like many localities and states — was slow to enforce the law. This year, as part of Austin’s celebration of Bike Month, the City of Austin police department began an enforcement effort using undercover police officers on bikes. This new emphasis on enforcement has led to 104 citations for violation of the city’s 3 foot passing ordinance, which also requires 6 feet of clearance for large trucks and buses. Texas, on the other hand, does not codify a specific distance for safely passing a bicyclist.

Three-foot passing laws inform the public of what is considered a minimum safe passing distance and how to share the road. They also provide protection for cyclists who are injured in collisions caused by passing motorists in the form of criminal deterrence and potentially easier civil recoveries. To provide all of these benefits it is necessary that three foot laws are enforced. Some studies and news stories lament the lack of enforcement and question whether they are enforceable at all. Given all this perception, it is great to see progress from the Austin police department.

The number of states that define a minimum safe passing distance for motorists passing bicyclists has increased dramatically in the last decade. However, to be effective these laws must be enforced, both when a crash occurs and as a part of general traffic law enforcement efforts. We applaud the efforts of the City of Austin Police Department.

 To learn more about the states that define a minimum safe distance check out our Bike Law University series here.

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