Enforcement is a key component to ensure safe and secure travel options. Law enforcement agencies have a role to play in raising awareness about safety issues; influencing behaviors and social norms; setting policies; and reinforcing and supporting educational and engineering programs and strategies. One of the ways that enforcement can advance safety for bicyclists is by enforcing safe passing laws. Although laws vary by state, most states require motorists to give at least three feet of passing room when overtaking other motor vehicles or bicycles moving in the same direction. The general consensus across these passing laws is that motorists should wait until traffic conditions are clear and safe to comfortably pass a bicyclist before moving back into the lane, as they do when passing other motorists. Some states even require a motorist to completely change lanes in order to pass safely.

Learning how to safely and considerately pass an individual or group of bicyclists is an important skill for motorists. In fact, 28% of bicyclist fatalities nationally are caused by motorists overtaking cyclists illegally. However, these laws are not emphasized in driver education and training and often are not enforced. One enforcement technique outfits an officer with a bicycle with a camera and a device to measure distance. When a motorist passes a bicycling officer too closely, the officer can radio to another officer to pull over and educate the motorist on the law or issue a citation.


Safely Passing Bicyclists Chart summarizes legislation across states with varying minimum passing distances.

A Right to the Road: Understanding and Addressing Bicyclist Safety outlines approaches for safe policies protecting bicyclists including safe passing laws.

Advancing Pedestrian and Bicyclist Safety: A Primer for Highway Safety Professionals summarizes infrastructure treatments and behavioral programs to address specific safety problems, including unsafe passing behaviors.

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Model Safe Passing Law provides example text and language for explaining safe passing laws.

Chattanooga Enforce Passing Law Article summarizes enforcement efforts using ultrasound technology to measure passing distance between motorists and bicyclists.

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