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Pass Five-Foot Safe Passing Ordinances in the Tri-County Area

Why Should We Do This?

Michigan bicyclists face significant risks from motorists passing too closely, even when riding "far to the right" as stated in state law (Michigan Vehicle Code Section 257.660a).

  • The most common type  of bicycle/auto crashes is when a bicyclist was “going straight ahead” prior to a crash (55% [Choose "2015"; PDF page 139/Report page 111])
  • Large vehicles produce strong air currents which can knock cyclists off course if they pass too closely. This is especially dangerous given the bad conditions of our area’s roads.
  • Many motorists are unaware of the dangers posed by their actions. Others intentionally pass closely to intimidate bicyclists.

Doesn’t State Law Cover This Already?

The language is very unclear. Section 257.636 of the Michigan Vehicle Code states:

“The driver of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle proceeding in the same direction shall pass at a safe distance to the left of that vehicle, and when safely clear of the overtaken vehicle, shall take up a position as near the right-hand edge of the main traveled portion of the highway as is practicable.”

The current “safe distance” language is left to the perspective of the motorist. It is also open to interpretation for law enforcement (and therefore difficult to put into effect). The "safe distance” language does not provide a clearly defined standard for patrol officers to use.

Moreover, a bicycle is not defined as a “vehicle” in Michigan law (Michigan Vehicle Code. Section 257.79). A bicyclist has “all the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle.” (Michigan Vehicle Code Section 257.657). Therefore, it is open to interpretation if bicyclists are protected under current law.

 Michigan is one of eleven states that has no specific law for passing a bicyclist. Despite the deaths of cyclists and urgings from the bicycling community, the State Legislature has not enacted a Safe Passing law. 

Should Bicycles Be On The Road At All?

Bicycles and other types of vehicles can be on the road, says Section 257.657 of the Michigan Vehicle Code:

“Each person riding a bicycle, electric personal assistive mobility device, or moped or operating a low-speed vehicle or commercial quadricycle upon a roadway has all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle under this chapter, except for special regulations in this article and except for the provisions of this chapter that by their nature do not apply.”

What Will Five-Foot Passing Ordinances Do?

  • Set the legal standard for "safe distance”
  • Provide clear guidance to motorists, bicyclists and law enforcement, thus reducing confusion and frustration
  • Help reduce bicyclist injuries and deaths
  • Promote a mutual respect for motorists and cyclists on streets and roads
  • Allow motorists to cross a center line, including a double yellow line, to safely pass a bicyclist.

What’s Next?

It is now up to local jurisdictions to do what the State Legislature has failed to do: pass safe passing ordinances that promote road safety. Kalamazoo, Portage, Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, and Battle Creek have enacted such ordinances.

The Tri-County Bicycle Association Advocacy Committee’s major goal for 2017 is to engage local governments in Clinton, Eaton, and Ingham Counties to pass Five Foot Safe Passing ordinances. We will craft a model ordinance that local cyclists can present to their community lawmakers. By working with residents of communities, we can take a big step in helping to protect bicyclists in the Tri-County area. We welcome people to join us. If you are interested, please contact Mike Unsworth at or (517) 882-3700.

TCBA will continue to support the League of Michigan Bicyclists in getting a state-wide law. Passage of local Safe Passing ordinances will demonstrate to our legislators that there is support for such safety measures.

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