Change lanes to Safely Pass of Bikes

The Iowa Code, Iowa Supreme Court Ruling, Iowa Attorney General opinions, and the Iowa Driver’s Manual echo the same sentiment:  Change lanes to pass bicyclists. 

  • As of July 2018, 32 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws requiring motorists passing bicycles to leave 3 feet of space or more between them.
  • Two states have laws that go beyond 3 feet.
  • Pennsylvania has a 4-foot passing law.
  • South Dakota enacted a two-tiered passing law in 2015. It requires vehicles to leave 3 feet for passing bicyclists on roads with posted speeds of 35 mph or less, and a minimum of 6 feet on roads with speed limits greater than 35 mph. 

One relatively new refinement to safe passing laws is to require a motorist to completely change lanes when passing a bicyclist. Five states currently require a motorist to change lanes:

  • Delaware,
  • Kentucky,
  • Oklahoma,
  • Washington,
  • Nevada 

We feel changing lanes to pass people riding bicycles increases the safety of bicyclists on the road.

See language in the Iowa Driver’s Manual, page 36

An Iowa Poll in January 2016 showed 75% of Iowans support changing lanes to pass bicyclists as a law. Yet, studies at the National Advanced Driving Simulator (in Coralville, Iowa), 85% of motorists studied in simulations do not change lanes to pass bicyclists.  Further, the lateral distance between a passing car and bicyclists was shown to decrease based on the age of the driver. Drivers seem to have difficulty determining what actual lateral distances are when moving down the road.

While we believe the code supports the concept of changing lanes to pass other vehicles, there is confusion around changing lanes to pass bicyclists.  A clear statement in the Iowa Code could provide clarity in insurance disputes, driver’s education, and public opinion.  

Talking Points:

  1. Over 50% of fatal bicycle crashes in the past decade are bicyclists hit from behind. 85% of bicyclists report having been passed too close for safety.
  2. Requiring motorists to change lanes to pass bicycles is easy to teach, easy to enforce, and easy to follow.
  3. The law will reduce confusion on how to pass bicyclists in the courts and law enforcement.
  4. The law will be easy for driver education instructors to teach.

Take Action:



§321.299 ADD New Section: 3.  The driver of a motor vehicle overtaking a person riding a bicycle proceeding in the same direction on a highway shall pass to the left thereof on the opposite side of the highway or adjacent travel lane and shall not again drive to the right side of the roadway until safely clear of the overtaken bicyclist in accordance with §321.281.  Bicycle lanes and paved shoulders are considered adjacent travel lanes for the purposes of this passage.


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