Hey drivers – don’t forget the four foot rule!

When I tell non-cyclists that I am a cyclist, I usually get at least one of the following questions:

Do you really like wearing spandex?  No.  No one likes wearing spandex except maybe Olivia Newton John in her 1982 award winning music video “Let’s Get Physical.” And let’s face it – even she looked ridiculous. And what was with the headband?

Isn’t riding a bike on the road dangerous?  Yes, of course it is.  So is driving a car on the road, but we still do it.

In York County, there are not a lot of places to ride a bike other than on the road; there are only so many times you can bike on the rail trail, as nice as it is.  Some areas of York County are better for road riding than others, and over the next few weeks, I will discuss some of the safer areas to ride on the road in York.  I will post Map My Ride maps and photos, so you can get a feel for the area before you even get on your bike.

There are several ways to protect yourself on the road.  Wearing brightly colored clothing, wearing a helmet, and stopping at lights and stop signs all help.  But the most important rule is to bike defensively by assuming the cars do not see you.  Unless I see a car actually begin to turn, I will wait before pulling out in front of it.   I try to make eye contact with drivers who are at intersections — do they actually see me?  It is amazing how easy it is to miss a cyclist even in our bright neon clothing and sexy spandex.

Yesterday I was biking and was at the light at the corner of Greenbriar Road and Church Road in Manchester Township.  I was heading north on Greenbriar and a driver coming south, who clearly saw me but thought she could beat me through the intersection when she turned onto Church, came within inches of hitting me. Luckily I was able to turn, get my feet unclipped, and stop without falling.  Which was a relief  – not just because hitting a car on your bike sucks, but it is also really embarrassing to fall on your ass in the middle of a packed intersection – no matter who is at fault – and for the record – I am never at fault.

The Pennsylvania legislature passed a law last year requiring drivers to give cyclists 4 feet of space when they pass us.  There is a reason for that:  In a fight between a 3,ooo pound car and a human being, the car wins every time.

I have noticed that since the law was passed, most drivers seem to follow it, but every once in a while, I encounter someone who does not seem to realize that I am not in a car and I don’t have a steel cage protecting me.  No matter how good I am at biking in a straight line, as soon as there is a car only inches away from me, I start to doubt my ability to do just that.

So what’s a driver to do?

1.  Slow down when you approach a cyclist and pass at a steady speed.  Some cars will get along side me and then accelerate quickly – as if getting by me faster is somehow safer because we are next to each other for less time.  Sometimes just the noise of that quick acceleration is startling.  Slow and steady is the way to go.

2.  Follow the law and pass four feet to our left.  While that might require you to wait a few seconds until it is clear to pass us, those few seconds could save a life.  Like my life. The four foot rule is not a suggestion; it is a law that is part of the vehicle code and just as important as stopping at red lights or signaling.

3.  Remember that cyclists can’t stop as quickly as cars can, nor can we accelerate as quickly, so we can’t get out of your way as fast as another car could.

4.  Think of how your insurance premiums will skyrocket if you hit a cyclist and the lawsuit that will surely follow, enabling me to buy even more spandex and maybe even a new bike.

5.  Pass carefully — but don’t be afraid to pass us.  When biking in the road, we know we also have to share the road with cars.

6.  Don’t be a hater.  Some people just “hate” cyclists.  If you are one of them, you should consider buying a bike.  People who bike are happier, smarter, funnier and better looking than people who don’t bike. OK, that’s probably not completely true; I do know a few people who don’t bike who are also pretty funny.

So go visit one of our local bike shops and take a spin.  And if you go to Gung Ho Bikes, be sure to tell them I sent you because I feel confident they will offer you a free cup of coffee.  And if those guys can’t get you psyched about biking, no one can.

If we have a mutual respect for one another and share the road there will be fewer accidents –  and my biggest concern will be about how bad I look in spandex and not whether I am going to get creamed by a car.

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12 Responses to Hey drivers – don’t forget the four foot rule!

  1. Suzanne Smith says:

    This was a good message since Spring will soon be here and more bikers are going to be taking to the road. Lets all be safe out there.

  2. Dawn Cutaia says:

    Spring – I can’t wait. :)

  3. Leigh Zaleski says:

    Well said, Dawn! What great tips to put motorists in the mind of cyclists. Be safe!

  4. paul says:

    Perhaps during Bike to work week this law could be advertized. I ride every day and I have to say I have cars pass me way closer than 4 feet all the time. How was the driving public made aware of this law? Its a great idea but I am certain most people aren’t aware of it.

  5. Dawn Cutaia says:

    Paul – I know there were articles in the paper about the new law and also it was on the news on TV – but you know that’s only a short blurb – nothing significant. I wrote a column for YDR on the law and it will be published soon.

    I know different areas are more difficult to ride in. Downtown the drivers are generally oblivious to bikers and it can be difficult to navigate those streets safely.

    I know in Florida, where a law passed several years ago requiring drivers to pass at least 3 feet to the left of a cyclist, the Florida bike association had bumper stickers made to promote the new law. Perhaps we should do something like that here in PA.

    Do you have any suggestions for getting the word out? (Besides yelling at drivers who pass too close LOL)

    Be safe!

  6. paul says:

    Those highway bulletin boards, the ones that inform drivers of delays and silver alerts would be a great place to put it out there. And have the law mentioned on renewal car registration forms, like how we are informed not to litter now , which is found on the back of the form.

  7. Dawn Cutaia says:

    Those are really good ideas – I am going to look into how we can go about promoting that idea.

  8. Dawn Cutaia says:

    Paul – I have written a letter to PennDOT asking what efforts they have made to promote this law and whether anything is in the works to do so. I will let you know what I find out. Also, the body of the law is below:

    75 Pa.C.S.A. Section 3303(a)(3):

    § 3303. Overtaking vehicle on the left.
    (a) General rule.–The following rules shall govern the overtaking and passing of vehicles proceeding in the same direction, subject to the limitations, exceptions and special rules stated in this chapter:
    (1) The driver of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle proceeding in the same direction shall pass to the left of the other vehicle at a safe distance and shall stay to the left of the other vehicle until safely clear of the overtaken vehicle.
    (2) Except when overtaking and passing on the right is permitted, the driver of an overtaken vehicle shall not increase the speed of the vehicle until completely passed by the overtaking vehicle and shall give way to the right in favor of the overtaking vehicle on suitable signal.
    (3) The driver of a motor vehicle overtaking a pedalcycle proceeding in the same direction shall pass to the left of the pedalcycle within not less than four feet at a careful and prudent reduced speed.

  9. paul says:

    http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/pics/docs/00/00/80/21/small/IMG_0084.jpg?v=0 Dawn, see if you can view this picture. A few of these might help also

  10. Dawn Cutaia says:

    I can see the photo – they have those signs in Florida, along with signs that say no more than two riders can ride next to each other (that’s a problem down there; there are almost as many cyclists as there are cars).

    The issue I see would be getting the money to do this. I have been doing some research on various organizations that might give us a grant. But I don’t know if we could get a grant for just York County and getting a grant for the entire state might be a little bit out of my league.

    There are national and governmental organizations that give grants for cycling safety – such as educational promotional items on wearing helmets etc.

  11. Dawn Cutaia says:

    Hey Paul – I just wanted to let you know that I did write PennDOT but I have not heard back yet.

  12. paul says:

    Great, hope they will act.
    I wanted to attend your ride on Monday but I was out of town, perhaps the weather made you cancel it thought. I will try to attend next Monday. Paul

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