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Exceptions 1, 3 and 4 swallow the rule. The law should be revised.

the law has not been used in all of maryland. ZERO citations. what kind of an idiot thinks this law accomplishes anything? hell, they cant enforce the speed limit law or the cell phone ban in dc on cars...

@Crickey7: These exceptions were added as the price of passing the bill through a committee with many members who are irritated with scofflaw cyclists. Their goal was to only give the space to the cyclists who obey the law.

Bike Maryland wanted to reform the law this year, but the only idea for which they could even get a sponsor was to (possibly) decrease the applicability of the narrow-highway exception.

What I hate about this law, is that the committee chose to legislate their concern about scofflaw cyclists by allowing cars to pass them unsafely. I would rather impose an additional duty on cyclists to ride safely.

I'm not sure if anyone would sponsor it, but what would you say to a bill that removed all four exceptions but required bikes to pass cars with a clearance of 3 feet?

@mike: I think that you are indicating that even without the exceptions the law would accomplish nothing because police will not enforce it. I think that the sponsors expect a certain amount of voluntary compliance as people learn about the rule. In addition, if a cyclist is sideswiped, this law will help a cyclist to recover damages. It pretty much destroyes the argument that swerving on the order of one foot is contributorily negligent; and probably creates a presumption that a driver is negligent per se unless there is evidence of a serious change in direction by the cyclist.

This law is useless and should have just not been passed at all. It boils down to, "pass safely unless there are unsafe conditions, then do whatever you want".

The exceptions introduce confusion. Exception 1 is unnecessary. Movement by the cyclist into the buffer would already be a defense against the extremely unlikely event of enforcement. Exception 3 is an invitation for cars to enforce a traffic law applicable to bicycles by deputizing them to force bicycles over. The mind boggles at the thought that this might be considered acceptable. Exception 4 might be okay with clarification.

DC's provision seems to operate better, to the extent that an unenforced law can be considered to work.

I can help Bike Maryland to quite wasting their time. "Highway" means almost any paved road in the state. The legal definition vastly differs from the literal definition. EG, Bethesda Avenue would constitute a "highway."

@Jim T:

These exceptions were added as the price of passing the bill through a committee with many members who are irritated with scofflaw [the existence of] cyclists [on the roads].

Fixed that for you...


Jim, Nice points but I'll add the State itself has been issuing improper summaries of the law.

October 2010:
What the 3' law says and doesn't say (MVA issued the "poor summary outlined here)

And again in November 2011:
How many times do we have to correct the state in it's law summaries?

IMHO if this is not proof that the law needs to be revised, I don't know what is.

I just noticed this is still a "good" link:


@oboe: The statute actually has a fifth exception, for cyclists on the road wherever there is a shoulder (technically, whenever the cyclist violated the mandatory shoulder use statute). But then 2-3 weeks after passing 3-ft bill, that same committee repealed the decades-old mandatory shoulder rule, which made the 5th exception moot.

So maybe it would be more accurate to say:

These exceptions were added as the price of passing the bill through a committee with many members who were irritated with scofflaw [the existence of] cyclists [on the roads] .

@Barry: The "'good' link" is quite depressing. The left side mostly paraphrases the statute but drops exceptions to the exception, and the right side is even worse. They changed "highway" to "roadway" and they recharacterized the bike lane exception as not requiring 3 feet when the cyclist is in the bike lane!

@T1: For Bike Maryland, it's a judgement call. I'd prefer to keep pushing bills to simply clean out all 4 exceptions which make the law incomprehensible, but I didn't walk around the state house looking for a sponsor. They did, and all they could find was a sponsor willing to add another exception to one of the exceptions. The definition of "highway" is obvious--the problem is figuring out what they meant by: "The highway on which the vehicle is being driven is not wide enough to lawfully pass the bicycle…at a distance of at least 3 feet."

Put another way: Crickey7 suggested that the exceptions swallow the rule. But the exceptions each have exceptions, and Bike Maryland's approach was to make the exceptions to the exceptions swallow the exceptions so that they would be too small to swallow the rule.

It's vaguely absurd to debate improvements to a law that virtually all Maryland drivers are ignorant of, and has yet to be enforced even once.

Still, on the theory that a good law is better than a bad one, it should be fixed.

The purpose of a law is to codify and promote social norms. What this debate shows is how little agreement there is about the social norm: how motorists "should" drive, and how cyclists "should" ride.

A cyclist is riding on a one-lane road with no shoulder and a double-yellow. A motorist comes up behind him. What should the cyclist do? What should the motorist do? Ask ten people, you'll get ten answers. The legislature tried to clarify, and ended up just showing how little agreement there is.

@Crickey7 I would think the primary enforcement of the 3ft law will end up being less of an issue than what will happen after driver hits a bicycle and a lawyer gets ahold of the list of exceptions and attempts to use them as a way to exonerate his client.

So Jim, if you and I go for a ride together, can my bike come within 3 feet of yours when we're side by side? Legally?

Yes Jack, as long as one of us does not overtake the other, or we are both riding on a shoulder narrower than 8 feet on a road with a speed limit of >50 mph.

I should add that if one applies Bike Maryland's interpretation of §21-1209(a)(2)(iii) to shoulders, then a bike can overtake a bike within a narrow shoulder along a road with a speed limit >50 mph without leaving the full three feet of clearance. Of course, it it's a stretch for them to think that "highway" means "lane" it is a bigger stretch to say "highway" means "shoulder".

While the Legislature almost certainly was not thinking about bikes passing bikes, a 3-foot rule for bikes passing pedestrians is probably needed in some areas, especially sidewalks and unmarked crosswalks where the law does not require bikes to stop for pedestrians. Cyclists often treat pedestrians the way drivers treat cyclists.

The shoulder is part of the highway. It's not part of the roadway.

Roadway=the travel lanes
Highway=everything in the right-of-way

This law is unusual in that traffic laws usually regulate conduct on the roadway, not the highway.

@Contrarian. That's correct as far as it goes, but the question here is, whether the following provision includes all highways with a speed limit greater than 50 mph which happens to have a shoulder narrower than 7 feet. I think that's a stretch--what say you?

"The highway on which the vehicle is being driven is not wide enough to lawfully pass the bicycle…at a distance of at least 3 feet."

My understanding of Maryland law is that it is not lawful to use the shoulder to pass, and it is not lawful to cross a double-yellow to pass. So on a single-lane road with a double-yellow, the only way "to lawfully pass the bicycle" is within the same lane. If the lane is not wide enough for a car to pass a bicycle entirely within the lane, does that mean that "the highway on which the vehicle is being driven is not wide enough to lawfully pass the bicycle" ? The law as written doesn't really make sense -- the problem isn't with the width of the highway (or even the roadway) but with the lane. For instance, think of MacArthur Boulevard at Goldsboro Road, where there's a median and the highway is over 120 feet wide, but it's just one lane in each direction.

When the law doesn't make sense, you have to look at legislative intent. It's clear to me that the legislative intent was that motorists not lose any right to pass on narrow roads.

Back in my academia days, one of the most important lessons I learned with regards to teaching is that "less is more". That is, both the students and I were much better off when each lesson was pared down to its core ideas and hammering them in rather than comprehensively touching on a wide variety of subjects. People actually remembered the main points and were -- roughly -- able to think about their implications in the broader context.

This law fails that concept, in my opinion. If we want vehicle drivers to pass safely and we think that three feet is a practical minimum, then all of this other glop just muddles the message and makes it difficult to enforce.

@Contrarian: The issue that Jack raised, and my comments following him, concerns a bicycle passing a bicycle. As far as I know, a bicycle may pass another bicycle within the shoulder (but is there a narrow-highway exception).

Regarding legislative intent, the law as written does make logical sense (though one might doubt whether this was what they tried to do). On a wide highway with narrow lanes, the bike can pull over once inawhile to let traffic pass, and most cyclists will do so eventually. On a truly narrow highway, that is not physically possible. Hence my view that the statute means what it says.

@Geof Gee: The strategic choice was whether to stay on the sidelines until a sponsor could be found for a bill to fix the law, or keep tweaking the complexity. The two main cycling NGOs chose differently.

@Jim T-- My understanding of law from the Judiciary and JPR Committees was that they were referring to back country two-lane roads indicating that passing was permissible in a safe manner. I was pointing out the term highway has never been confusing except outside of the State House. Everyone inside of the State House and MDOT/MdTA knows it refers to virtually all paved roads in the state of Maryland (I think even to a few gravel roads).

What was the bill number and what did the fiscal note say? That's probably the best indication.

Interesting example of legislating. Based on a too-quick read, none of the exceptions are obviously insane considered alone, but together they make it impossible for most reasonable people to follow. Can't wait for when officers try writing citations--they'll need an animated flow chart.

No, number 3 is insane all by its lonesome. How is a driver supposed to determine whether a cyclist is riding as far to the right as practicable and safe? More importantly, why would we give a driver the legal right to make that judgement, and then to calibrate their distance from the bicycle on the basis of that judgment?

My experience is that drivers often think I'm not over far enough, and that around 12 inches clearance is what I should be allowed.

@T1. Your interpretation is consistent with the plain language of the statute, and consistent with the MDOT flyer that Barry linked to above. Note however, that they should have used the term "roadway" instead of "highway" since another section in the rules of the road part of the code already referred to narrow roadways where one must slow down to pass in opposite directions.

There is essentially no public record because that exception was added at the end. See SB 51 (2010). People who were already mad about the other exceptions may have been a bit too quick to jump to the conclusion that the Legislature intended the exception to never impose an inconvenience on drivers. Some argue that the word "lawfully" suggests they meant "lane" because the word "lawfully' is superfluous with a truly narrow highway.

My own view, is that you must start with the plain meaning of a statute, and if only one literal interpretation makes sense, that is what it means. Only if there is more than one literal interpretation that makes sense do we need to consider whether a word is superfluous with one interpretation and not the other. And only if no literal interpretation makes sense, do we reformulate the statute as meaning something it did not say.

If this was the only exception, it could probably be fixed. But I'd feel better about deleting all four, in return for some sort of reciprocol responsibility of cyclists to pass cars and peds with a 3-foot clearance as well.

The bill as 1st drafted in fact did remove all 4 exceptions AND provided for legal crossing of a double yellow. That was what was submitted to the head of the House Bike/Ped Caucus. The bill draft got pared down to what was dropped as 1397. This bill contained (to Jim's literal reading point) a huge technical error that basically would have outlawed any crossing of a double yellow except while both overtaking AND making a left turn. So what gets written / drafted is not always the best wording or that which was intended. (there was a technical amendment pending that would have fixed that typo had the bill moved forward).

Jim - you said "The law also prohibits bikes from overtaking cars on the right within a standard travel lane on a 2-lane road, although they may pass on the left within such a lane' I can not infer what you said from the current law. The law talks about overtaking bicycles. Not bikes overtaking cars. Not that I advocate squeezing by cars too closely, but the literal wording does not speak at all to bikes overtaking cars to the left, to the right or pedaling over them. In fact, what's good for the goose is good for the gander - I support giving 3 feet by all parties to the left or right. But that's not the law now.

Bikes (and scooters) are legally, explicitly allowed to use shoulders - unlike every other vehicle out there - so using them to provide room to overtake to the right - not a problem, allowed by the law as it stands.

As far as AFRAP - since a bike isn't legally required to use a shoulder anymore - as far to the right as practicable (not possible) - not sure if the law can force a cyclist over the fog line - so 2-3 feet to the LEFT of the fog line seems practicable to me.

I 100% concur - remove all the exceptions - they are already codified elsewhere, and allowing a double yellow movement resolves the 'lane', 'roadway' 'highway' definitiional confusion and only leaves unstriped narrow neighborhodd and country roads that may need a 3' exemption.

@Jon: See the section on passing on the right, § 21-304.

As far as AFRAP - since a bike isn't legally required to use a shoulder anymore - as far to the right as practicable (not possible) - not sure if the law can force a cyclist over the fog line - so 2-3 feet to the LEFT of the fog line seems practicable to me.

Right, because it's AFRAP on the roadway, and the fog line is the edge of the roadway.

However, what this law is saying is that if you ride that way on a narrow road, don't expect three feet of clearance.

this discussion borders on the surreal.

the law is a piece of crap. the police are too uneducated to care for bicyclists, and they have not written a SINGLE citation yet, even IF the only they would do so is in some sort of tort dispute, concerning a bicyclist that got nailed AFTER the fact!!!

then again NO ONE in the bike world in DC can tell me when the CCT wil be repaved...and NO ONE even knows who to ask or petition!!

how long until they pave the bike path near the ZOO along Beach Drive?...

just give up folks...

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