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Safe Passing for Safe Streets

Yesterday we heard about the great news of the Pennsylvania Senate passing HB 170, the Safe Passing Act and sending it to Governor Corbett’s desk for his signature. Just in time for the 2012 Bicycle Friendly State survey no less! To learn what happens next, we have a story from Nancy Schulz with the Vermont Bicycle & Pedestrian Coalition.

Three feet (or more) – it’s the law, it’s safe, and it raises awareness about sharing the streets. But as cyclists often find out, safe passing isn’t always enforced. Since the passage of Vermont’s safe passing law in 2010, Nancy has encouraged reporting violations to law enforcement. Riding on a dirt road in Berlin, VT, Nancy heard a car approaching rapidly from behind.  She pulled off to the side of the road, afraid the car may hit her from behind, only in time to see the car leave the road and tear off its bumper.  Over the next 15 minutes, the driver would pull over, let Nancy pass, then buzz her honking his horn while the passenger screamed at her.  Then they mooned her and sped off.

Nancy reported this harassment, including the unsafe passing, to the Berlin Police Department.  It turns out the same driver on the same evening hit a mailbox and almost a little girl on a bicycle.  The driver was caught and charged with driving under the influence.  Through Nancy’s diligent work and the willingness of the Berlin Police Department to listen to her, the driver was also found guilty of violating the state’s safe passing law.  The driver’s license has since been suspended and substantial fines were levied by the court.


As of the 2011 Bicycle Friendly States survey, 20 states throughout the country have a safe passing law.  Cyclists in Nebraska and Indiana are working right now to ensure safe passing distances in their states.  The work doesn’t end with the adoption of safe passing legislation.  The awareness such laws raise is a major benefit for cyclists and motorists who share the road.  But in instances like Nancy’s, there has to be meaningful enforcement of laws that protect cyclists, pedestrians, and other vulnerable users.  Kudos to Nancy and the Berlin Police Department for working together for safe passing in Vermont.

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