The 3-Foot Rule Misunderstood!

Last week, I had an encounter with a driver who misunderstands the 3 foot rule.  I was riding along Queen Street between Belmont and Westmount.  I was riding in the right hand lane, which left the left hand lane open for cars.  Traffic was light.  When I pulled up to the stoplight at Westmount, a guy in an SUV, pulled up in the left hand lane, rolled down the window and started to yell at me.  He was quite irate, and unfortunately, after trying to talk calmly to him and having him shout me down, I responded angrily too.  The point of his tirade was that I wasn’t close enough to the curb.  He kept screaming that I only get 3 feet.  I tried to explain to him that the 3 foot guideline was the minimum distance cars should give cyclists when passing them.  He kept yelling that I only get 3 feet.  The handlebars on my commuting bike are 26″ long.  That leaves me 10″, or 5″ on each side of my bike.  According to the SUV driver, that’s all I get!

The question that I’ve been pondering since then is, how do we educate drivers concerning cycling safety?  I’ve long thought that having info about cycling safety in the driver’s handbook and the driver’s exam, is a great idea.  However, this only reaches new drivers, though.  How do we teach cycling safety to the vast majority of drivers we will run into, those who have had their licenses for years?

10 thoughts on “The 3-Foot Rule Misunderstood!

  1. The best way in my opinion is to simply refer to the exact articlenumber in the code. This might demonstrate how sure you are about this and induce at least some doubt in the drivers mind that he might be wrong. Who knows ? Maybe he’ll look it up !

    1. Thanks Marc! It’s worth a try. However, the bigger question here is how do we educate all drivers? I’d hate to do it one at a time, after they get mad at me for riding my bike a little away from the curb!

  2. I think there is little you can do. Once in a while you encounter these angry people. I always think they must have other issues, why else would you yell out of the blue to some one you don’t even know. Last winter, some one yelled to me when we approached a roundabout, that I should” F#!k off to a gym”, while I was following all the rules of the road. Probably the best you can do is take the licence plate and report it. Ottawa police told me that they do register strange and dangerous behaviour. Discussing with these folks doesn’t get you anywhere.

    1. If not on a one to one basis, then tru public awareness by writing to your local paper maybe ? Unfortunately, writing a blog is like preaching to the convert…

      (On one such occasion, I envisionned (fantasized ?) writing code articles on leaflets that I could hand-out to such offenders. “Here sir, may be you should read this..”)

      The problem with writing to local papers is that they won’t publish if it is not related to current event (as when they report a bicycle accident or something like that). Even then, you have to be pretty quick in responding with your letter while the “news” is still fresh.

  3. I am not sure whether such people can be educated. It sounds like the driver was mad about something completely unrelated to your lane position. Maybe he just got screamed at on the job or some other cyclist had done something that he disapproved. Who knows? The best response that a friend of mine told a driver was thus: “You may not like having to share with other road users but legally you have no choice. It’s better for your health and mine that you accept that.”

  4. We need to keep writing letters to the editor – or convince a journalist to review the law as part of a series on cycling and pedestrian deaths in the city. I have issues also as a pedestrian when cars zoom by while I wait to cross at a crosswalk. What happened to pedestrian right-of-way?

  5. I’d have told the guy to shup up and roll his window up or I’ll be calling the police… If he doesn’t immediately stop yelling, pull out your phone and start dialing.I wouldn’t call 911 unless there was verbal threats of some kind but I’d still report it. I’m a big dude and not easily intimidated but there’s no telling what kind of weapons a driver could have handy (tire iron or other tools) or how long they have been road raging for.

    When someone is angry enough to yell at a stranger there’s unlikely much one can say at that point that will stop the exchange or make them see the error of their ways. Aside from making a safe escape, pulling out a phone is probably the best thing to do… even if it’s only to record the plate number to make a report later, or maybe just film the encounter and put it on youtube.

    Even making a report later will help if this wingnut ends up mowing down a cyclist or pedestrian in the future… documenting things is important. Maybe if they had enough reports something might happen to prompt the angry man into getting help for his psychological issues.

  6. I once rode around with a big “how’s my driving?” sign on the back of my bike with my blog address clearly displayed, in an effort to get motorists to have a discussion online… didn’t get much response, other than the odd verbal shoutout that my driving was fine and a funny debate with one rude visitor. You pose a really great question: how do we reach under-informed motorists in a useful way? I still don’t know.

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