I have been working on this posting for a little while now, and did not intend to post it today. However, this morning I read this blog on JSOnline (http://www.jsonline.com/blogs/lifestyle/120010609.html), which discusses the upcoming Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin summit in Madison and the issues the Federation will discuss.
Of the discussion topics, what is most interesting to me is the discussion of vulnerable user laws and tougher penalties for motorists who seriously injure or kill a cyclist. This brings me to the “3-foot” statute.[i]
The purpose of this statute is to provide a safe clearance distance; in Wisconsin it is at least 3-feet, when a motorist is passing a cyclist in the same direction. In theory, it is a good law intended to give cyclists some protection as cars pass them by. In reality, the only time I actually hear of this law being enforced is usually after a vehicle has struck a cyclist, causing injury or death.
Waiting to enforce this law until AFTER a cyclist is struck, in my mind, in no way fulfills the intent behind the law- to PREVENT a motorist from striking a cyclist while passing the cyclist. Hence, the language “but in no case less than 3 feet clearance when passing the bicycle.”[ii] This statute will only have teeth if motorists who violate this law, but do not strike a cyclist, are cited for violating this law. This will show motorists that the police are actually serious about protecting the rights of all users of Wisconsin’s roadways, and hopefully this will modify the behavior of drivers who continuously think that bikes have no place on the road, and act as such while on the road.
So, patrol person who I see sitting in your squad car every morning, at 68th and Bluemound Road, as I go by on my bike and cars continuously come within more than 3-feet of me when passing- please take action. Turn on your sirens, pull out of your hiding place, and pull over the drivers who violate the law. By doing so, you will show drivers that you intend on protecting all users of Wisconsin’s roadways who have a right to be on the road. You will send the message that cyclists have rights too, rights that are protected and will be upheld.
I ask this because the purpose of this law is to prevent contact between cyclists and cars, and all too often the only time the citation is issued is after the contact occurs, and sometimes, not even then.
I am very curious to see the effects the Federation will have with its upcoming summit. I hope the Federation is able to get enough legislators on board to sponsor changes to our laws that impose tougher penalties for drivers who violate the law, as well as laws that afford better protection to cyclists. With everything else that is going on in Madison, I think this is a tough task, but I applaud the Federation for their tireless effort and advocacy for cyclists in Wisconsin.