There has been much debate here in New Jersey and across the nation about the merits of the "3-foot Passing Law." First of all, as a cyclist, being passed by an automobile by just 3 feet is simply too close and downright dangerous in nearly every circumstance (3 feet of clearance from one's shoulder is just beyond the tips of your fingers if you fully extend your left arm). However, what people might not think of is that a 3-foot law may tell drivers it's okay to pass cyclists by less then they do already.
That's right! A "3-foot Passing Law" has the potential to backfire and cause drivers that already give cyclists, 5, 8 or even 12 feet of clearance, the message that it is okay to pass cyclists with less room.
I read recently on the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals list serve of a survey done in a Florida that asked drivers how much room is considered minimally acceptable to pass a cyclist. About 13 percent replied “3 feet.” By comparison, nearly 56 percent replied from 5 to 10 feet. So the socially accepted norm is well more than 3 feet. Passing a law that says 3 feet is acceptable would seem to work against the interests of cyclists, as it would tell those people who already believe 5 to 10 feet is appropriate that 3 feet is OK.
I have also read that Joe Mizereck, the creator of the website www.3feetplease.com, no longer favors 3 feet as the standard for minimum passing distance laws when he heard that 1.5 meters or 5 feet is the standard in much of Europe.
New Jersey's Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Council has already been working on language for a bill that requires a greater passing margin and is more enforceable by using the lane itself to give law enforcement visual cues as to when a driver is passing a cyclists by less then the acceptable distance.
Knowing all this, it would seem almost counterproductive at this time for anyone to lobby for a law in New Jersey that advocates for inadequate and dangerous passing distance when motorists overtake cyclists.