By Barkha Patel
As of July 2015, twenty-six states and the District of Columbia have adopted a policy requiring motorists to give bicyclists three feet or more of space when passing. If its governor signs the 3-foot passing law, Alabama will become the 27th state. However, there are concerns about enforcing this law without a substantial way for bicyclists to report violations. Motorists and bicyclists often find it difficult to estimate the three foot distance while driving. When cars do get too close to bikes, bicyclists are unable to prove that the incident happened. In order enforce the law and ensure safety on the road, a police officer from Chattanooga, Tennessee introduced the idea for a device that can record the distance between bicycles and cars.
There is a need for a “data-driven way” to prove the violations in court. The result is the C3FT Device, designed by the Texas engineering firm Codaxus. Known as BSMART (Bicyclist and Safe Monitoring Applied Radar Technology), the device mounts onto the handlebar of a bicycle and measures the distance of a passing vehicle with ultrasonic waves. This distance appears on a digital display visible to the bicyclist. When a vehicle is closer than the required three feet, the BSMART beeps and alerts an officer of a violation. In order to record these incidents, the device is also paired with a GoPro camera.
A bike advocacy group called Friends of Outdoor Chattanooga paid for the device. Since May 17, 2015, 25 drivers have been pulled over. Police officers use this as an opportunity to educate drivers who do not know about the law, and give out warnings. For those drivers who refuse to cooperate, a judge will try to sentence offenders to a Bicycling 101 course. Chattanooga is the first city to use this device and for Mayor Andy Berke, safety for all users of the road is of the utmost importance.
Police departments and bike advocacy groups from surrounding cities have expressed interest in the device. These tools are important for the implementation of bicycle safety-related legislation. While New Jersey is not one of the states that has adopted the law, the City of New Brunswick has an ordinance requiring drivers to give bicyclists at least three feet of clearance when passing. The New Jersey Department of Transportation (DOT) can add this to its extensive list of Biking Regulations under Title 39. Experimenting with the BSMART and using it New Brunswick could help the DOT and the New Jersey Legislature move closer towards more bike-friendly policies.