Houston’s Police Step up Enforcement of Safe Passing Law

by Terry Bryant

Houston Police want the public to know they have ramped up their enforcement of the city’s Safe Passing Ordinance. Drivers must keep three feet away when passing cyclists, and six feet away if they drive a commercial vehicle. HPD is now conducting a media blitz to make sure all drivers get the message.

Six bike riders have been killed in the Houston metro area so far this year, according to advocacy group BikeHouston. As a response – and armed with a new weapon – HPD is now conducting regular stings which ticket drivers who endanger cyclists by violating the Safe Passing Ordinance. The stings are part of a push by prominent local authorities, including Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, to make Houston safer for cyclists.

In March, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo revealed the tool HPD plainclothes bike cops use in going after drivers who fail to keep a three-foot margin.  They officers are equipped with a high-tech “C3FT” mini-radar detection device. For over a year now, police have been using the C3FT, which is attached to the handlebars of an undercover bike. It measures whether a driver is passing too close, and is now approved by the courts and police to give out citations to drivers who break the city’s passing law. A ticket can cost a driver up to $500.

High-Tech Delivers Tougher Enforcement and Better Cycling Safety

Although Houston’s “safe-passing” ordinance has been in effect since 2013, HPD never had a good way to measure the space between a passing car and bicycle. With these new gadgets, groups like BikeHouston hope that will change.

In a recent media demonstration of how the C3FT works in maintaining vehicle “safe passing” distances from cyclists, Houston police bicycle officers demonstrated how dangerously close drivers often come to cyclists. One pass during their demonstration came as close as 12 inches away from one officer, certainly lending credence to the idea that HPD’s “Pedal Police” might deserve hazard pay.

Out on the road, cyclists face faster drivers and the element of surprise. Many confess that in the abstract, it’s hard to grasp the danger unless you see it or experience it yourself.

“We move fast in Houston,” says Jessica Wiggins, with Bike Houston. “And when you’re on a bike and someone goes by at 45 miles per hour you really feel that. It can shake you and your bike. It’s one of the scariest things to experience [when riding].”

“It’s very rare for somebody to be hit on a bicycle and not end up seriously injured or dead,” says Chief Acevedo. He and Wiggins both agree that drivers and cyclists also need to share the road — and they owe each other common sense behavior: the courtesy that keeps everyone safer.

If you’ve been injured while cycling in Houston, you should consider your legal options. At Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law, we have years of experience helping accident victims. Terry Bryant is a Board Certified personal injury trial lawyer and former judge. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.