While House Bill 353 may not seem like a big deal, it really is for both cyclists and drivers. Unfortunately, it does not include a large education budget, so getting the word out about these changes is going to fall heavily upon the cyclists in the state of Georgia. So, let us discuss what it means, how it affects drivers and cyclists, and how we can get the word out.
What is HB 353
In short, it is a bill that alters the wording of 40-6-56, the “Three Foot Law” as adopted in 2011 for clarity and detail. In order to understand the changes, we need to first look at the original wording.
40-6-56. Safe distance defined; application to bicyclist. as of 2011
(a) As used in this Code section, the term “safe distance” means not less than three feet.
(b) Notwithstanding any provision of this article to the contrary, when feasible, the operator of a motor vehicle, when overtaking and passing a bicycle that is proceeding in the same direction on the roadway, shall leave a safe distance between such vehicle and the bicycle and shall maintain such clearance until safely past the overtaken bicycle.
What this means is really pretty simple. When passing a bike, on a roadway ( note roadway, not lane, so even in a bike lane, the safe passing space is 3 feet ). This seems clear cut and in need of no clarification, and yet, it does.
Because sadly, there remains confusion regarding the legality of crossing a double yellow lane marking in order to accommodate the required 3 feet of safe passing space.
That is where HB 353 matters.
40-6-56. Safe distance defined; application to bicyclist. as of July 1, 2021
(a) The operator of a motor vehicle approaching a bicycle shall approach the bicycle with due caution and shall proceed as follows:
(1) Make a lane change into a lane not adjacent to the bicycle if possible in the existing road and traffic conditions; or
(2) If a lane change under paragraph (1) of this subsection would be impossible, prohibited by law, or unsafe, reduce the speed of the motor vehicle to a reasonable and proper speed for the existing road and traffic conditions, which speed shall be at least ten miles per hour less than the posted speed limit or 25 miles per hour, whichever is more, and proceed around the bicycle with at least three feet between such vehicle and the bicycle at all times.
(b) Any violation of this Code section shall be a misdemeanor punished by a fine of not more than $250.00.
There are some big changes here, and they will need to be spelled out to drivers, and to a lesser degree, law enforcement. The expansion of (a) for clarity and detail is much needed, instead of just codifying 3 feet, it details exactly HOW to apply the concept of safe passing. Starting with a requirement for a lane change if possible, which includes crossing the double yellow line ( under the existing obstruction laws that already apply for mail carriers, garbage trucks and similar ). It then continues to clarify how to safely pass when a lane change is not possible. Adopting language aligned with the successfully implemented in the Spencer Pass Law ( 40-6-16 ) regarding the passing of emergency vehicles on the roadways from 2017, when changing lanes and giving the required 3 feet of space, it codifies a speed reduction, 25 mph or speed limit – 10 mph, whichever is greater.
Finally, it also codifies, at a state level the maximum penalty for violating the statute, making this a far easier statue to enforce.
Conclusion and What Comes Next
What this means for cyclists is that the burden is now on us to educate, and get the word out to drivers, to law enforcement, to family and friends. As things stand, the 3 foot law is poorly understood, and this new law is going into effect with relatively little awareness of the upcoming change. To actively educate and promote this new law should reside with all road cyclists.
For convenience, linked is a publicly available post regarding the details of the law for sharing to non-cycling communities, one we need to disseminate as widely as possible: