Tech Keeps Cars Away From Bikes

BSMART helps the Chattanooga police give the local three-foot passing law some teeth


By Sarah Goodyear

CityLab

Maybe your state is one of the more than two dozen around the U.S. with what is known as a three-foot passing law—a provision that requires drivers to give people on bikes at least that much clearance when passing them on the road. (Pennsylvania calls for a more generous four feet.) But are these laws enforceable? Or are they just an empty promise of safety?

One police officer in Chattanooga, Tennessee, wanted to find a way to give the law in his jurisdiction some meaning. Officer Robert Simmons, who has been with the city’s department for 12 years and on full-time bike patrol for seven, came up with an idea for a device that can measure and record the distance between a bike and a car.

“I thought, I wish there was a data-driven way, like a radar gun,” says Simmons. “This is what I want to build; this is what we need to prove it in court.”

Simmons had been thinking a lot about how to prevent deaths like that of David Meek, a leader in Chattanooga’s biking community who was killed in 2009 when a truck driver drove close enough to hook Meek’s saddlebag, dragging him under the wheels. “That resonated in my head,” says Simmons. “I didn’t act on it—was just a thought in my head that we have to do something about this.”

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