Five Feet to Save Lives

It’s December, and it’s snowing, conditions when I normally put away my bikes for the year and dream about long rides next summer. Yet bikes are on my mind right now due to some recent and ongoing developments that could significantly improve cyclist safety and encourage more people to get on a bike.

The one I’ll talk about here is a proposed “five-foot rule” for passing. It requires a driver to provide at least a five-foot cushion while passing a cyclist on the road. While some drivers do this already (and thank you thank you thank you!) there are many who give less, or don’t move over at all. Those drivers are taking a huge risk.

Five feet may seem excessive to you as a driver, but to us cyclists it can make all the difference. Even if it looks like we’re in control, all it takes is a pothole or patch of loose gravel to make a tire slip and suddenly we’re right in front of you. Even a minor distraction can cause a cyclist to drift into the road. Is giving us some more room and slowing down for a few seconds really going to ruin your day? Not doing so has a good chance of ruining the day, and more, for both of us.

Ghost bike indicating a cyclist was killed here. Way too many of these.
“Ghost bike” indicating a cyclist was killed here. Way too many of these.

At the November meeting of the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition  they mentioned this rule was under consideration by the Michigan Legislature and asked us to write our congressional representatives in support. I did, and was pleasantly surprised to receive this response from the office of Gretchen Driskell (

Thank you for contacting my office to advocate for legislation to better protect vulnerable roadway users. I appreciate hearing from you on this critical issue.  

As a Michigander and a bicyclist myself, I was deeply saddened by the tragedy in Kalamazoo earlier this year. I believe it is incumbent upon my fellow state legislators and me to enact legislation that prioritizes the public safety and helps prevent such awful occurrences in the future, and I agree that Senate Bills 1029 and 1030 and House Bills 5002-5004 are meaningful steps toward this end.  

Senate Bills 1029 and 1030 were introduced on June 9, 2016, and are awaiting a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee. House Bills 5002-5004 were introduced on October 20, 2015, and are awaiting action in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. I encourage you to contact the committee chairs to urge them to bring these bills up for a vote, and I’ve included their contact information below for your convenience.

Even better, my hometown is not waiting for the state to get its act together. The Ann Arbor News reports that the City Council has approved a local ordinance adopting the five-foot passing rule for both pedestrians and cyclists. It takes effect in January. Under the ordinance, drivers can be ticketed and fined $100 for violating the five-foot minimum passing cushion. And the initial “if conditions allow” language was removed, which means if conditions don’t allow for five feet, the driver must wait until they do.

It’s not a perfect rule. It’s hard to enforce unless drivers are caught in the act. And there will be a learning curve just like with the new crosswalks, which I still see drivers ignoring. But it’s a start.

It’s sad to think that it sometimes takes an event like in Kalamazoo, with five cyclists killed and four injured, to get traction on improving bike safety. But I will not complain about the progress being made, and I hope this rule, along with other proposed measures like increased bicycle awareness in driver’s ed classes, are passed and implemented soon.

I’ll be writing about some other bicycle-friendly proposed legislation later. In the meantime, I encourage my Michigan cyclist readers to let the legislature hear your voices as well. Write to Rep. Driskell at her email address. And the committee chairs mentioned in the email are as follows:

Senator Rick Jones, Committee Chair
Senate Judiciary Committee
(517) 373-3447

Representative Peter Pettalia, Committee Chair
House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee
(517) 373-0833

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