Pennsylvania’s 4-Foot Buffer goes into effect today

As reported on Lehigh Valley Live, Pennsylvania’s 4-Foot buffer goes into effect today:

A Pennsylvania law slated to go into effect Monday requires drivers to allow a 4-foot berth between their vehicles and bicyclists. The legislation will be tricky, if not impossible, to enforce, according to a Lehigh Valley cycling advocate.

The law makes Pennsylvania the 20th state to legislate a distance between motorists and bicyclists, but the Keystone State’s buffer is a foot larger than any other state.

Read the rest of the article by clicking here.

I have long believed that passing-buffer laws like this mean well, but are incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to enforce. My experience with the 3-foot buffer in Florida, which went into effect in October 2006, suggests that the law didn’t really do anything to change motorist behavior. Furthermore, I have not heard of an example where the law was upheld or used in legal proceedings as part of a bicycle/motor vehicle collision case.

Such laws CAN be beneficial to all road users, but only if enforcement is done in a logical and fair manner, and is coupled with an aggressive marketing campaign to get the word out to bicyclists and motor-vehicle operators. What do you think? Leave your comments below.


  1. Skinny April 2, 2012 4:49 pm 

    Yeah, I am not sure that is going to change anything with aggressive drivers. You know the one that you are slowing down, from reaching the McDonald’s drive thru a mile up ahead.

  2. Steve A April 2, 2012 5:42 pm 

    I heard of two cases prosecuted under such legislation. Over the last two years – nationwide. One was at the insistence of the cyclist in preference to other grounds. Safe and reasonable passing distance seemed adequate to me compared to the expenditure of advocacy effort on redundant rules. Are there no more important issues to cyclists? I think there are. For example, throwing things at cyclists is not generally recognized as assault with a deadly weapon. Verbal harassment is not prosecuted appropriately and, most places, cyclists have no civil recourse against it. The list goes on…

  3. Todd April 2, 2012 5:56 pm 

    I can’t see the state persuing a marketing campaign, but perhaps advocacy groups will. I am hoping that it will do some good, but I really can’t see how it will in Southeastern PA where I live. Philadelphia may have some bright ideas. There has been slow but steady progress here by the city government and advocacy groups in the past several years. This may well be another building block.

  4. BluesCat April 2, 2012 6:22 pm 

    The primary problem is, unless there’s some kind of video, a collision between a two-ton automobile and a couple of hundred pounds of bicycle and rider usually results in only one side of the story being told. Do you really think a motorist who has KILLED a bicyclist will EVER admit to violating a three- or four-foot-rule?

    A secondary problem is a lot of law enforcement personnel don’t even know that a bicycle, in MOST states, has the same rights on the road as a motorized vehicle!

  5. Ghost Rider April 2, 2012 6:42 pm 

    @Steve A — yeah, I’m mostly in agreement. This is one of those “feel good” laws that shouldn’t have to be spelled out. I mean, passing ANYTHING at a safe and reasonable distance should be common sense, right? But, it’s a way for legislators to say, “yeah, we’re doing something for cyclists”, even if laws such as this are incredibly difficult to enforce.

    @Blues — absolutely. When the cops don’t even know the laws, what chance do we stand?!?

  6. Rider April 3, 2012 6:48 am 

    Florida may not be a good test case. The state has no interest in promoting the law or in advocating for safe behavior, in any fashion.

    Texting while driving is considered a right in this state, as is speeding — legislative leaders cheerily admit to doing both regularly.

    Strident politics and one-party rule have largely rendered Florida a dysfunctional state. How this law ever got passed is a mystery.

    As for enforcement, I don’t see that this law is much harder to enforce than many others. Reckless driving, for example.

    In fact, it should be relatively easy. Pass with less than 3 feet, then you have violated the law.

    So graze a rider with your mirror — and many cyclists have had this happen — you have clearly violated the 3-foot law. No mystery there, just the usual problems of enforcing any traffic violation.

  7. Skinny April 3, 2012 7:01 am 

    I live in the very center of Florida. there is NO love here for Bicyclist at all. You have things thrown at you. They will run you off the road, pull out it front of you. That’s just the police. 😉

  8. Ben April 4, 2012 5:52 am 

    I live in Ohio where we have a 3-foot law. I’d say that about 55% of drivers do anywhere from a half to a whole lane change (way more room than necessary, though I appreciate the gesture), about 40% barely move at all (I guess they think they can scare me off the road, or perhaps their arms are too week to turn the wheel), and about 5% actually move approximately 3 feet. So I don’t think the law does any good here.

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