Serious Bicycle Safety in Austin

Austin, Texas is moving from education to enforcement for its Safe Passing Ordinance, and could serve as an example for California’s Three Feet for Safety Act.

In 2009, Austin passed a Safe Passing Ordinance that requires motorists to give three feet when passing pedestrians, bicyclists, and construction workers, while large trucks and buses are required to give 6 feet when passing. Safe passing laws require significant education and appropriate enforcement to be effective, and Austin began ramping up its enforcement efforts last year.

In 2013, as part of Austin’s Bike Month, the Austin Police Department began to move from education to enforcement. Using undercover police officers on bikes, the APD began an operation to cite motorists and bicyclists for breaking the law. The citations issued are Class C misdemeanors, the same citation given for running a red light or rolling a stop sign. Before this operation, only a couple of citations were issued since 2009. During the undercover sting, Austin Police Commander Fred Fletcher reported 139 citations and 4 arrests.

“The time for excuses is over, and the time for not knowing what the law is, is over,” Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said.

This, in combination with an informational video created by the APD, shows that Austin is taking bicycle safety seriously.

CalBike is committed to educating motorists about California’s similar Three Feet for Safety Act, which will go into effect in September 2014. With your help, CalBike will distribute bumper stickers, “swing-wings” for bikes, prepare a media campaign for September, and convince the California Traffic Control Devices Committee to approve an official road sign.  As Austin’s example shows, education and enforcement is paramount to the law’s success.

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