A Toronto city councillor wants drivers to give a mandatory three feet of space when passing a cyclist, or be fined.
A pool of blood, a crumpled bicycle and the loss of two lives.
Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam was affected by Jenna Morrison’s death last November. The 38-year-old woman was killed when her bicycle tire was clipped by a truck passing too closely. She was pregnant with her second child.
Now, the city councillor is seeking a provincial law requiring drivers to give cyclists three feet of space when passing them.
However, Wong-Tam doesn’t want to wait for the province to make it law and is requesting the city implement its own three-foot rule until the traffic act is changed and driver education and testing requirements updated.
“The issues around road safety they’ve been coming to a boil point,” she said of tensions on the roads. “We need to learn how to share the roads.”
While there is no three-foot rule in Canada, it’s the law in 39 states — Pennsylvania has a four-foot rule — and it comes with a fine in a number of them. Colorado motorists face a $110 penalty, while in Arizona drivers are fined only when they injure a cyclist (up to $500, $1,000 for a death).
Such a law would improve the relationship between motorists and cyclists, said Jared Kolb, executive director of Cycle Toronto.
“We’ve got some cycling infrastructure and some fast streets that motorists and cyclists share,” he said. “It’s a low-cost method to send a fairly strong signal that motorists need to have caution when passing cyclists.”
Despite some success, a number of states have failed to pass similar legislation. And police don’t always pay attention to the law. In Florida, only 337 tickets were issued between 2006 and 2010, with police arguing the law is impossible to enforce.
Last September, the three-foot rule garnered attention in California after Gov. Edmund Brown Jr. vetoed a proposed bill for a second time, citing liability issues if a driver must cross a double-solid line to pass a cyclist.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry vetoed a similar bill in 2009, but nine cities have since implemented the distance rule. Houston is currently debating the issue; motorists there would be fined $500.
Vaguely written, Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act mandates that cyclists pull to the right and drivers to the left “so far as may be necessary to avoid a collision.”
In his 2012 review of 129 cycling deaths between 2006 and 2010, Ontario’s chief coroner said more than 26,000 people provincially visited an emergency room for cycling injuries in 2009 alone. Insufficient passing room was responsible for the majority of cycling deaths reviewed.
The coroner’s report has fallen by the wayside, said Wong-Tam.
“When the review came out in 2012, everyone made announcements and statements were made and then we haven’t heard anything else.”
Wong-Tam’s notice of motion needs a two-thirds vote from council to avoid referral to Mayor Rob Ford’s executive committee where it would likely not survive. “This is an issue around public safety and I hope they can rally around it,” she said.
The motion will be tabled at the May 7 council meeting.