Why is 3 feet important?

Fear of traffic is a huge barrier to would-be cyclists, novices and the less confident. According to the London Mayor’s Cycle Safety Action Plan, it’s the reason most often given by non-cyclists to explain why they do not intend to take up cycling.

If they felt safer, more non-cyclists would take to the saddle with all the environmental, health and cost benefits that it brings. And the more that ride, the safer it gets.

80% of adult cyclists hold a driving licence, and 5 million drivers cycle at least once a week, which leaves nearly 40 million licence holders who cycle less frequently or not at all.

Those 5 million know that bikes look different from behind a windscreen, yet the rest (that’s two thirds of the entire UK population) have little or no idea what it feels like for a cyclist to be passed too close. If they could be persuaded that it’s common sense to give cyclists a bit more space, it would reduce scope for conflict and make the roads safer for everyone.

A 3 feet rule would make a big difference, quickly and cheaply. Infrastructure improvements such as cycle hire schemes and blue routes seem attractive because they are highly visible; but they take years to plan and are seen by many as an expensive indulgence in relation to the numbers benefiting from their use.

What’s different about this campaign?

It’s great that pressure for a safe passing rule has already resulted in changes to legislation in 15 US states and in France. In whatever language the message is expressed, it’s clear that many already agree that cyclists need more space. We plan to build an influential UK coalition by reaching out to all road users to raise awareness, encourage more people to cycle more safely, and press for the Highway Code to be changed.

Why only 3?

Because it’s a realistic minimum. Ask for more and be shown the door. We welcome the lively debate around the number. Some even say it’s better to have no number at all. But this misses four points:

  • A driver could at present argue that, even though he passed a cyclist within 6 inches, he was giving as much space as he would a car. This seems wrong.
  • As motorists, we expect binary directions, not discretion. Any number is clearer than none.
  • The notion that a 3 feet rule would make responsible drivers be less responsible is absurd. Those that give 5 or 10 feet will continue to do so.
  • We’re not asking for just 3 feet – we’re asking for a minimum of 3 feet, depending on circumstances.

Why not 1 metre?

Two reasons. First, current legislation says that road signs must be expressed in imperial units. Second, transport planners have found that many people have little idea what one metre represents. Should this change, the 1 Metre Please website is ready to go.

What if the government just says No?

The previous government said it had no plans to change the law. We shall of course press our case with the new coalition, but in any event people will judge the campaign a success if it raises awareness, reduces conflict and thus helps to remove the biggest barrier to attracting new cyclists and a major reason why UK cycling levels lag behind those in neighbouring countries.

How would it be enforced?

Maybe the real question is why might it be unenforceable? Why do so many drivers still use a mobile phone? Why does 40mph in a 30mph zone seem to be the rule instead of the exception? The purpose of the campaign is not to see police chasing motorists waving a tape measure, but to provide a clear benchmark, both to assist driver education and to help resolve conflict or dispute. As such it should be welcomed by the police, insurers and transport agencies.

Fear of traffic – reference

“The safety of cycling is a major cause of public concern and is the reason most often given by non-cyclists to explain why they do not intend to take up cycling (27%). Less than a half of Londoners (46%) agree with the statement that Cycling is a safe way of getting about and 86% of all Londoners believe that traffic makes people afraid of cycling. Safety is an issue even amongst those who already cycle, with 10% of current cyclists stating that they did not ride more in 2009 than 2008 because of their concerns about safety.” (Source, Cycle Safety Action Plan, published by Transport for London, March 2010).