As a bicyclist, I often find myself sharing the road with operators of motor vehicles. Even on those streets that have bicycle lanes, I have come to realize that riding a bicycle on our roads has become more dangerous, especially with the increasing use by motorists of cell phones. Too often, motorists engage in texting while driving, which diverts the driver’s attention from the operation of their vehicle and their immediate surroundings.
On September 30, 1999, Tucson bicyclist Brad Gorman, while training for the annual El Tour de Tucson, was riding his bicycle when he was struck by a pickup truck driven by a seventeen-year-old motorist. The motorist was issued a $66 citation for “unsafe passing.” Mr. Gorman suffered fatal injuries as a result of the collision.
In 2000, following extensive lobbying efforts by members of the Brad P. Gorman Memorial Bike Fund Committee, the Arizona State Legislature responded by passing a law designed to prevent injuries to bicyclists who lawfully share the road with motor vehicles. This law has become known as the “Three-Foot Rule,” which now requires motorists to maintain at least three feet of space when passing a bicyclist. The law also dramatically increased fines for motorists who violate the new law. In its present wording, the statute reads, in pertinent part, as follows:
§28-735: Overtaking bicycles; civil penalties
When overtaking and passing a bicycle proceeding in the same direction, a person driving a motor vehicle shall exercise due care by leaving a safe distance between the motor vehicle and the bicycle of not less than three feet until the motor vehicle is safely past the overtaken bicycle.
Despite the legislature’s intent, no legislation will prevent needless collisions caused by operators of motor vehicles that cause serious injuries to bicyclists. Bicyclists should always ride with an awareness of their surroundings, should use bicycle lanes when available, and should always consider planning their rides on less-traveled roads. Above all, just as we are all taught when we first obtain our driver’s license, bicyclists should always ride in a defensive manner and assume that surrounding motorists will not obey the rules of the road.