Friday, September 16, 2011

How the "3-Foot Rule" is Enforced in Civil Cases

There has been discussion in the bicycle community about whether or not the "3-Foot Rule" is being enforced. The "3-Foot Rule" comes from sub-paragraph (d) of Section 11-703 of the Illinois Rules of the Road. This statute provides as follows:

(625 ILCS 5/11‑703) (from Ch. 95 1/2, par. 11‑703)
Sec. 11‑703. Overtaking a vehicle on the left. The following rules govern the overtaking and passing of vehicles proceeding in the same direction, subject to those limitations, exceptions, and special rules otherwise stated in this Chapter:

(d) The operator of a motor vehicle overtaking a

bicycle or individual proceeding in the same direction on a highway shall leave a safe distance, but not less than 3 feet, when passing the bicycle or individual and shall maintain that distance until safely past the overtaken bicycle or individual.

Key language in the statute is obviously that there must be a minimum 3 feet between the bicycle and the motor vehicle when the motorist passes the bicycle. But note that the statute also requires that this distance of 3 feet must be maintained until the motorist is "safely past" the overtaken bicyclist.

To the question at hand as to whether this law is "enforced," keep in mind that there are two areas of law: Criminal and Civil. 
Criminal cases, which would include municipal citations, for violation of the 3-foot rule are not widely enforced. My understanding is that much of this stems from the fact that it is a relatively new rule and many police officers are not aware of it. In civil cases (what we typically refer to as a "lawsuit") the 3-foot rule is being used aggressively by Keating Law Offices. Many of the cases that the firm is filing includes an allegation of a violation of the 3-foot rule by the motorist. 

In legal terms this is a part of "pleading," legalese for how you write out the lawsuit for the client. By including this allegation, when/if the case goes to trial we will be able to argue to the jury or the judge that 1) there was this law and 2) the motorist violated the law. If the judge/jury agrees, then an award can be entered for the injured bicyclist.

I would say that at least in the civil side of the law the 3-foot rule is being "enforced." Ideally with time and education our law enforcement officers will become more aware of the 3-foot rule and ticket motorists for violations of this law. This is a very important law as almost anytime there is contact between a unprotected bicyclist and a motor vehicle there are injuries to the bicyclist.

If you have any questions regarding this post or an issue involving Illinois personal injury law, please contact Illinois Bicycle Attorney Mike Keating at 312-208-7702 or 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. All e-mails and phone calls are returned promptly. All initial consultations are confidential and free.