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BFS: Legislation & Enforcement

Every year the Bicycle Friendly State ranking collects information and grades states on the laws that govern bicyclists and motorists.

Many of the questions in this category are on basic laws and states tend to do well on those basic questions. These questions allow us to provide up-to-date information on state laws throughout the nation. We also try to recognize trends in laws due to local advocacy and reward states that are pushing the envelope when it comes to providing legal protection for cyclists.

Over the course of the Bicycle Friendly State ranking there have been two major trends in Legislation & Enforcement: 

  1. Safe Passing laws that define a minimum safe passing distance in feet, and 
  2. Vulnerable user laws that provide increased penalties for motorists who injure or kill vulnerable road users, including cyclists.

Since the Bicycle Friendly State ranking process began in 2008, 13 states have added a safe passing law that requires motorists to pass bicyclists with a minimum of 3 feet between their car and the bicyclist – including California in 2013. Now 25 states, and the District of Columbia, have laws that define a minimum safe passing distance in terms of feet. Several other states, such as Oregon and Rhode Island, are notable for defining a safe passing distance not in feet but in terms that provide additional guidance to motorists. You can learn more about safe passing laws by looking at our Bike Law University series.

Vulnerable User laws are a recent innovation. Oregon was the first state to define and protect vulnerable road users in 2007. Since then five additional states have passed laws that define and protect vulnerable road users – including Utah in 2013. The League has supported this movement through the publication of a model statute. Many other states provide legal protections to cyclists through other types of laws and you can find more about these other protections in my Bike Law University article on Vulnerable Road User Laws.

Through our Bicycle Friendly State ranking we hope to push states to pursue better legislation and enforcement that provides legal protections to cyclists and create a safer road environment. It has been exciting to watch the progress made since 2008 and recognize important signs of success such as safe passing and vulnerable road user laws. We are looking forward to more positive trends in the future.