• It’s official – 3 foot passing law signed by Governor Markell

    by  • July 28, 2011 • Legislation and Policy • 6 Comments

    By Amy Wilburn, Chair, Delaware Bicycle Council

    On Monday 7/25/2011, Governor Markell signed SB 38, Delaware’s “three foot passing” bill. With the signing of this bill, Delaware becomes the nineteenth state to have a passing law to protect cyclists. The law not only provides additional legal protection, it provides an important educational opportunity.

    Delaware’s law reads as follows:

    “The driver of a motor vehicle, when approaching a bicyclist traveling in the same direction, shall ensure the safety and protection of the bicyclist by:

    a.  Proceeding with caution and yielding the right-of-way by making a lane change into a lane not adjacent to that of the bicyclist, if possible, with due regard to safety and traffic conditions, if on a roadway having at least 4 lanes with not less than 2 lanes proceeding in the same direction as the approaching vehicle; or,

    b.  Proceeding with caution and reducing the speed of the vehicle to a safe speed and leaving a reasonable and prudent distance by providing a minimum of three feet of clearance while passing such bicyclist, if changing lanes would be impossible or unsafe.”


    The Delaware Bicycle Council again wishes to thank Senator Dave Sokola for sponsoring this bill and for working with the Council, the Delaware State Police and DelDOT to ensure that the bill addresses the needs of cyclists.  The Council also wishes to express appreciation to Senator Sokola’s legislative aide, Glenn Shipley, for his efforts, to Representative Valerie Longhurst and her legislative assistant, Melissa Hopkins, for spearheading the effort in the House, and to the following other cosponsors: Representatives Schooley, Hudson, Keeley, B. Short and Senator Cloutier.

    Poster’s note: While some might question its effectiveness, having a 3’ passing law is more about education and legal protection for bicyclists than actual enforcement out on the road. Not only is this a significant moral victory for Delaware bicyclists, it also adds another legal tool should an incident occur. Delaware also passed a vulnerable road users law, and we have legislation in progress to legalize the use of right turn-only lanes as shoulders. These additions and changes to the law will go a long way toward reversing the dismal prosecution rate enjoyed by at-fault motorists when striking a non-motorized road user.


    6 Responses to It’s official – 3 foot passing law signed by Governor Markell

    1. Zach
      July 31, 2011 at 7:34 pm

      Great law, nice to see politicians caring about the safety of cyclists.

    2. Andy B from Jersey
      August 4, 2011 at 11:41 am

      I like the "move over a lane" language on multi-lane roadways. This was something I wanted put into our proposal in New Jersey but was immediately shot down. I'm glad you have it in your new LAW for us to emulate.

      Still, I can't stand that "3-feet" has become the standard minimum safe distance to pass a cyclist. I'm concerned these laws will cause drivers who give us 5, 10 and even more feet of clearance when they pass, the notion that they shouldn't be giving us that amount and will then pass closer. 3-feet is in my opinion NEVER an adequate passing distance. 5-feet is a minimum in my book and just a minimum.

    3. Frank Warnock
      August 4, 2011 at 11:47 am

      I agree, Andy. You can almost reach out and touch a car passing 3' away. Maybe we can view this as a start, and amend the law to 4' (commonly found bike lane width) someday.

      I'm not as worried about drivers moving in on us. I think most who pass at greater distances now do it out of common courtesy anyway. The 3' is the stated minimum. Let's hope this is true, anyway.

    4. DPO
      August 15, 2011 at 12:19 pm

      In New Hampshire it's 3' for 30mph and below, an additional 1' for every 10mph above 30mph.

    5. JW Haupt
      April 9, 2015 at 10:32 am

      All good discussions and as Frank said, it’s a start. You need to get something approved and on the books and as time goes on if it is determined that as a standard some other distance is actually a standard safe distance, such as 4′ or 5′, then it is easier to amend the law.

      I also like DPO’s comment about New Hampshire’s law where the safe passing distance is relative to speed. That is very logical and would be easy to argue the merits of such a standard.

    6. J Smith
      October 2, 2015 at 6:47 pm

      Agree that this is a good law. With that being said, cyclists need to make an effort to stay right. I often drive on Route 82 along the Red Clay Creek, which is a narrow curving two-lane road only to encounter cyclists riding three abreast and taking up the entire lane. More often than not, there is no attempt to move right, which forces a dangerous passing situation. Courtesy is a two way street.

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