Safely Passing Bicyclists Avoids Bicycle Accidents

One bicycle safety policy that has gained significant interest and activity in state legislatures across the nation is “3-feet” or “safe passing” laws. These laws try to achieve a goal that, when passing bicycles, motor vehicles allow adequate space to avoid dangerously sideswiping bicyclists or causing a bicyclist to “overcorrect” to avoid the vehicle. In fact, Wisconsin became the first state in the nation in 1973 when it enacted Section 346.075 of the Wisconsin Statutes which requires a motorist to exercise due care, leaving a safe distance of no less than three (3) feet clearance when passing a bicycle. The statute requires the motorist to maintain that clearance until it is safely past the overtaken bicycle.

As of September 2021, 35 states have followed Wisconsin’s lead with three (3) foot clearance requirements. Several other states have adopted stricter requirements (e.g., 4-foot passing laws or requiring a motorist to completely change lanes when passing if another lane is available.) Others have adopted more general standards requiring motorists to pass bicyclists at a safe distance or speed, without defining a minimum clearance.

These relatively recent law changes follow a developing awareness of motor vehicle risks to bicyclists. Studies have shown the relationship between bicycle accident occurrences and motor vehicle operator patterns of conduct. Analyses of causes of bicycle accidents have produced data demonstrating that a large number of bike accidents happen when a motor vehicle is overtaking and passing a bicycle.

The bicycle accident attorneys at Clifford & Raihala understand the legal responsibilities and duties motor vehicle operators owe bicyclists on our roadways. Wisconsin’s “3-foot” law is an important tool in assessing fault of the car driver who sideswipes a bicyclist. But, the evaluation of the negligence of the driver doesn’t stop there. Our bicycle accident lawyers also investigate whether the circumstances of a given bike accident might show the driver still didn’t exercise due care, even where the driver gives three feet of clearance. While mandatory, the “3-foot” rule is just the minimum requirement. If the driver failed to exercise due care and was otherwise negligent (e.g., was distracted, using a cell phone, inattentive, intoxicated, etc.), that driver may still be responsible and owe the bicyclist compensation for injuries and harms he caused.

Some are skeptical about the “3-feet” or “safe passing” laws, doubting whether they can actually be enforced or whether they provide sufficient space for bicyclists. Many bicyclists feel that laws dictating that they must ride to the far right of a lane are of more concern because they often encourage too-close passing, leaving bicyclists vulnerable to being “doored” by a parked car. Those concerns may very well be right and deserved to be taken seriously. The safe passing laws, however, at least provide a less arbitrary legal framework to protect bicyclists who are injured in a bicycle accident caused by a passing car. They are helpful tools for our bicycle accident attorneys in vindicating the rights of our clients who have been injured in a bicycle accident.

The bike accident lawyers at Clifford & Raihala are skilled and experienced in using these and other available tools to make sure that our clients who have been injured by a motor vehicle driver receive fair and full compensation for their injuries. That’s why our bicycle accident attorneys have recovered $2,000,000.00 in one recent, tragic fatal truck-bicycle crash; $1,925,000.00 for a severely injured survivor of a car-bike collision; $575,000.00 for a client who had been “doored” while riding his bicycle; and hundreds of thousands of dollars for other clients injured on bicycles by negligent motor vehicle operators. Every case is different and these examples are unique to the circumstances of those cases, but may give you some idea of the broad experience of our bicycle accident attorneys.

If you or a family member have been injured in a bike accident, contact Clifford & Raihala to see if our bicycle accident attorney team can help. There is no obligation and no fee for the consultation. Call 608-257-7900 (or toll free at 888-791-8422).