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Enforcement of the 4-foot Law

This topic contains 28 replies, has 20 voices, and was last updated by  jonawebb 1 yr, 4 mos.

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Nick D

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Jan 15 2013 at 9:34pm #

On my way in today, after being buzzed several times, I was thinking–has anyone ever heard of someone locally actually getting cited for breaking the 4-foot passing law?

I know police on the other side of the state have cited at least one driver under this law when they hit a cyclist.

I also know of at least one instance where a driver was clearly in violation and the instance was witnessed by several bystanders, and no charges were filed.

Is there any way to find out?


Swalfoort

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Jan 15 2013 at 10:23pm #

That was the primary objection to its passage among people who you would think would be very supportive of such a bill.

Since no one drives with a tape measure, and even if they did, there is no way to capture a moment in time (as in “well he WAS too close 25 feet back), the rule is hard to enforce — EXCEPT in cases there there has been clear contact between the vehicle and the cyclist (after the fact, if you will).

There are a couple of instances nationally where there has been enforcement without contact, but its hard to find a lot of examples (they may just not be easy to google, of course). But, the law is still seen to have value in the “after the case” situation, as police have sometimes been reluctant to cite a motorist, even after contact with a cyclist has occured, for a variety of reasons. (Momentary distraction by either party, cyclist violation of motor vehicle laws, sun in the eyse, etc.) Sad but true.

As for “is there any way to find out?” I can’t help you there. I can’t even seem to be able to find out when a cyclist get HIT, much less when they get buzzed, other than through this message board.


StuInMcCandless

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Jan 15 2013 at 10:45pm #

Look at the evening video in pinky’s thread about the guy who buzzed her. Watch the tire tracks of all the cars who pass her before that guy, then that guy. I do not know if there is a good way to measure that, but it seems measurable.

She chose not to press charges, and the guy got a stern talking to, so theoretically there might be some sort of traceable info on that one case, but even there, I’m not sure there is, since there were no charges filed.

I say that to say this: This might be a very difficult thing to answer, for even where there was clearly police activity involved, there may still be no data.


Steven

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Jan 15 2013 at 10:57pm #

The police blotter would theoretically list such things, making it public info, I think. If the police won’t do a database search by offense, maybe the DA’s office would? If not for a private citizen, maybe for a reporter, or a member of City Council?


pinky

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Jan 16 2013 at 12:08am #

Interestingly, the charge recommended to me was harassment, rather than the 4-foot rule, since I had reported recurring incidents over a period of time. The next charge up in severity would have been reckless endangerment of another person. 4-foot rule never came up in conversation.


Anonymous

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Jan 16 2013 at 12:59am #

While I was out riding one evening last week, a minor incident occurred. I was going up a small hill and the road shoulder was narrowing. The vehicle immediately behind me was keeping its distance until we got close to the crest and the oncoming lane was visable. I was passed, with plenty of space by that car. We then, on the downhill slope, were approaching a stop sign, where I needed to turn left. I signaled but then a van came up quickly to deny me that opportunity (I was still squeezed over to the right at that point). The driver was giving me dirty looks and saying something I couldn’t hear because his windows were up. Presumably, he was irritated that the previous vehicle was going slow because of me. We approached the stop sign, with me on his right and running out of space, as there was no shoulder. Seeing an opportunity, when he stopped, I kept going and turned left in front of him. Of course, he didn’t like that one bit and laid on his horn. No further incident occurred. I know I didn’t obey the traffic laws because I didn’t come to a complete stop (I was probably going 1-2 mph at the sign). Any advice on handling this sort of thing with more “grace” and safety would be appreciated. I would further add, that the overwhelming majority of folks driving out there are very courteous and seem to be supportive. I realize that it only takes one to ruin your life.


salty

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Jan 16 2013 at 2:09am #

Jackasses do that to me on the little (but steep) hill on Negley between Wilkins and Fair Oaks. Shortly before I crest the hill I start moving left and on the downhill I move all the way left. Before I started doing that it would happen every couple weeks; sadly, even now it happens a few times a year. The results are (1) they cut in front of me and hit the brakes, (2) they just blow the stop sign entirely, or (3) they end up (semi-)stopped or stopped in the wrong lane with varying degrees of “squeeze”.

I’m trying real hard to be the shepherd but I usually lose my cool and flip them off and/or yell something. Plus, I’m too stubborn to slow down when I see what is happening, which is what leads to (3) and also makes (1) more dangerous. Cutting in front sounds like a whole other level of danger since most of them don’t actually stop.


Anonymous

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Jan 16 2013 at 2:11am #

^Pulp Fiction quote–excellent. :)


cburch

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Jan 16 2013 at 3:11am #

This is why I don’t squeeze myself over to the right. Ever. It’s my god damn lane and I’m going to use it.


salty

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Mar 1 2013 at 6:54pm #

I had someone pull this on me just now as described above, but worse. I was all the way to the left, already on the downhill and picking up speed. I heard the engine revving so I stuck out my left arm to make a “stop” signal, but the asshole just floors it, passes me as I’m yelling “what the hell are you doing”, proceeds to cut me off, then slams on the brakes, possibly intentionally. Too much adrenaline from the panic stop to remember the plate, but it was a dark colored SUV.

Maybe the next mayor will make traffic enforcement a priority.


Vannevar

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Mar 1 2013 at 8:09pm #

I don’t think it’s the Mayor as much as the District Attorney and the officers on the scene (and the people who train them). If the DA announced they want 4-foot-law citations it would happen.

Of course, the DA is an elected official meaning they’re a politician and that advocacy would not play well in the next election cycle. (IMO)

It would be a fascinating question to pose to all the mayoral candidates at a forum, if they would answer it: Bicycles are a major factor in nu-Pittsburgh. Do you support enforcement of the four foot law? How would you make it happen?


Vannevar

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Mar 2 2013 at 5:38pm #

Kind of an interesting question. How is enforcement of PA’s four-foot-law described? Maybe the police are doing it right and we have an uninformed assumption?

I’m asking because near as I can figure out, in several states the X-foot passing bikes law is only enforceable if it results in a collision or death. No collision no death, no four-foot-law enforcement.

This is the PA stature: http://www.legis.state.pa.us/CFDOCS/Legis/PN/Public/btCheck.cfm?txtType=HTM&sessYr=2011&sessInd=0&billBody=H&billTyp=B&billNbr=0170&pn=0114

and I don’t see any description of penalties or application. Can anybody shed some light on this? TIA. V.

(iaw yes there’s a four-foot-law, but is it universally enforceable or only in certain circumstances?)


Steven

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Mar 3 2013 at 2:46am #

The statute amends Title 75, the Vehicle Code. Chapter 65 of that title covers penalties. It says some violations are defined as misdemeanors or felonies, but all the rest are considered summary offenses and subject to a $25 fine. Looks to me like the 4-foot rule falls into that latter category. (Not a lawyer though.)

I see nothing suggesting the regulation only applies if there’s a serious accident. On the other hand, I can see why the police don’t have much enthusiasm for typing up a report in the pursuit of a whole $25. Maybe it’s worth sticking at the end of a long list of charges, if they have to do the paperwork anyway, or if it’s necessary for somebody’s insurance to pay out.

So the four-foot law isn’t going to scare anyone into complying to avoid penalties. To the extent it’s useful, it’s about educating drivers and convincing them to comply, even though the law won’t do much if they don’t. Tons of traffic laws have similar nominal penalties.


Vannevar

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Mar 3 2013 at 7:22pm #

fourth attempt

Had a funny experience with the Forum interface. Typed in this response twice, clicked Submit, and it disappeared. To get through I made an initial post of just “***”, which worked and then I edited the post.

——

Thanks Steven, I agree. This is a good analysis of various states’ bike passing laws: http://azbikelaw.org/articles/ThreeFoot.html

It seems like in PA, unless there’s a collision with injuries and/or fatality (which would bring other more significant rules-penalties to bear), simply buzzing a bicyclist without injury is a technical violation without pragmatic penalty – sort of like littering or jaywalking.

I’ve come to realize that my initial understanding of “PA has a four-foot law” was naive and uninformed. The reality is, no blood no foul.


Vannevar

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Mar 3 2013 at 7:25pm #

fifth quixotic attempt

Had a funny experience with the Forum interface. Typed in this response twice, clicked Submit, and it disappeared. Tried to be clever and made an initial post of just “xxx”, which worked and then when I edited the post it disappeared. On the fifth try, removed and reworded a URL (not a link, just a URL)

Turns out it didn’t like a URL in the post.

——

Thanks Steven, I agree. There is a good analysis of various states’ bike passing laws at AZ bike law dot org

It seems like in PA, unless there’s a collision with injuries and/or fatality (which would bring other more significant rules-penalties to bear), simply buzzing a bicyclist without injury is a technical violation without pragmatic penalty – sort of like littering or jaywalking.

All the citations I could find in PA via the Google were instances where there was a collision-with-injuries or a fatality.

I’ve come to realize that my initial understanding of “PA has a four-foot law” was naive, uninformed and romantically enthusiastic. The reality is, no blood no foul.


ajbooth

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Mar 4 2013 at 12:50pm #

Unfortunately, much of the enforcement appears to fall into one of two categories–the “No blood-no foul” category or the “As reported” category. For the latter, it depends on us as cyclists. I say all that because I did report a driver in December who wound up being charged with reckless driving. That charge came about because I had very good video of the driver revving his engine, buzzing me, then slamming on the brakes in front of me. The charge was more serious because of the slamming of the brakes, and apparently the driver was a bit aggressive towards the police officer who called him.

I think the most important thing for us is to report what we can. If we get a plate, or video, or the same driver doing the same thing all the time, we have to condition ourselves to calling 9-1-1.

Also, to quote cburch:

cburch wrote:
This is why I don’t squeeze myself over to the right. Ever. It’s my god damn lane and I’m going to use it.


jonawebb

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Mar 4 2013 at 1:20pm #

I’ve come to realize that my initial understanding of “PA has a four-foot law” was naive, uninformed and romantically enthusiastic. The reality is, no blood no foul.

We discussed this back when the 4-foot law was being proposed. It’s probably true that no driver will ever be charged with violating the 4-foot law if that’s all that happens. But it still serves to educate drivers on what is expected of them, and to establish fault when a driver hits a cyclist or behaves aggressively. So, still useful.


Nick D

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Mar 4 2013 at 1:32pm #

On the other hand, I can see why the police don’t have much enthusiasm for typing up a report in the pursuit of a whole $25.

As anyone who has ever received a citation knows, a $25 fine does not mean the citation totals at $25. The base fine for speeding is also $25, but no one has ever got a $25 speeding ticket.

The state, county, and municipality all have the ability to tack on other surcharges and fees–Emergency Medical Services Act, Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Fund,and “other costs”. I am pretty sure there is a fee to help pay for computer upgrades for police/the court.

So, a ticket for breaking the 4-foot law probably totals closer to $125.


Pierce

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Mar 4 2013 at 1:40pm #

“I’ve come to realize that my initial understanding of “PA has a four-foot law” was naive, uninformed and romantically enthusiastic. The reality is, no blood no foul.”

Well if you think blood means the police will actually show an interest in pursuing something, I’d say you’re still naive

So far the only crimes the cops have solved is the ones where the alleged perp is brought to them


JaySherman5000

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Mar 8 2013 at 8:13pm #

I can’t find the thread I wanted so I’m posting this here. The driver of the vehicle pictured below passed me so closely that his side mirror almost hit me. I slapped the side of his SUV as he passed. Then we had a rather lovely shouting match. Words hurled included:

driver: you had at least 6 inches when I passed.

me: I gave your Mom 6 inches!

Police are aware of the situation.


Pseudacris

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Mar 10 2013 at 9:33pm #

Yesterday a bit before 2pm I was buzzed by a man driving a light blue “smart” car convertible with the top down. Dude passed within a foot or two and then had to wait at a stop sign for a while before he could turn right onto Shady. This was in front of the school for the deaf. I told him he buzzed me and could he please adhere to the new 4 ft passing rule. He said “you’re lucky I didn’t run you over.” HGA2372. Middle aged caucasian. Jerk.


salty

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Mar 10 2013 at 9:41pm #

Just goes to show the size of the car doesn’t necessarily correlate with the size of the asshole.


Val

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Mar 10 2013 at 9:50pm #

Although I commend the efforts of anyone who manages to catch an offender on camera and somehow obtain justice, I think time spent even discussing passing laws and motorists that ignore them is almost wasted. Nothing will ever stop idiots in cars from driving too closely to cyclists except divided lanes, and when the motorist in question is also a cyclist and knows the deal. It would probably be easier to start a thread for the times when someone didn’t pass too close during a ride. Something tells me that would be a sparsely populated thread.


jonawebb

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Mar 11 2013 at 7:50am #

On one occasion I told a driver who had rolled down her window to smoke at a stop light that she passed me too closely, and she said she would be more careful in the future. I was polite — maybe that helped. (though congrats on the quick thinking behind “I gave your mom 6 inches”.)
And of course common experience is that drivers usually do give enough clearance, except when it’s inconvenient because of heavy traffic or because they’re assholes.


Marko82

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Mar 11 2013 at 8:59am #

I did a small group (6) ride down to Sewickley area yesterday. I got passed *within* a foot by a jackass on California ave in Emsworth. Definitely on purpose as viewed by screaming ridemates. Dark minivan with an Obama sticker, plate ***-7870. Later in the ride I was tailgated way too closely going down Camp Horn rd by a Subaru wagon. Funny thing is after they passed me and I caught them at the light – they had a bicycle sculpture thingy in the trailer hitch receiver- yeah thanks!


byogman

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Mar 11 2013 at 10:01am #

Rarely there’s a chance to talk with someone who passed to close, and more rarely they might change their mind. I salute any cyclist with the patience and composure to try… it’s very hard to do anything but yell and curse in those situations.

Would be damn nice if there were some enforcement. I don’t know if it would be effective, but to make it clearer at least that we’re equal status users of the road.

The fundamental force at work that creates the hostility is impatience. That isn’t curable, just have to change the infrastructure, gradually, cheap stuff (bike lanes) first until our numbers grow large enough.


danny.yabs

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Mar 13 2013 at 1:49pm #

Have you all seen this? Portland & San Antonio have used undercover bike cops to patrol their safe passing law.

http://www.kens5.com/news/Give-that-cyclist-more-space-it-could-be-a-police-officer-184181011.html

http://bikeportland.org/2005/11/04/police-run-undercover-bike-missions-615


Ted

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Mar 19 2013 at 9:18am #

This morning I was going inbound on Penn near 26th in the Strip. I usually ride in the middle of the right lane, but sometime in the middle of intersections I think I float to the right a little bit (I need to stop doing this). I was still in the lane, but over towards the right side.

I was then buzzed by a silver sedan, license plate JFV3381. He squeezed by me on the left with less than a foot of room between his car and my left hand, and was probably going about 40-45mph. Should I bother reporting this incident?


jonawebb

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Mar 19 2013 at 9:27am #

As my brother-in-law, who is a cop, says, “Whenever you see something wrong, call 911. They aren’t doing anything else.”

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