Nebraska’s 3-foot law: Why it matters

Contributed by Megan Hottman
Hottman Law Office

On July 20, 2016, at around 6:00 am, Jeff was riding his bike on Highway 30 near Sidney, Nebraska. An avid cyclist and racer, Jeff was familiar with this highway, and he rode it regularly. He had a red, rear-facing blinky light on his bike. Jeff is 49, married, and has two sons in their early 20s. Jeff has been mountain biking since 1988, road cycling since 1999, and began road racing in 2002. He grew up racing motocross and riding freestyle BMX. Needless to say, Jeff can handle his bike, and he’s a savvy rider.

Unbeknownst to Jeff, a semitrailer was approaching him from behind. Although Nebraska has a 3-foot law, the driver did not move over 3 feet, and instead, struck Jeff from behind.

Local news covered the story (click HERE). Note the use of the word “accident” and “clipped.” This type of reporting is the kind that minimizes these collisions (which are avoidable) and the injuries sustained. In a crit you “clip” a pedal. But a semi-truck hitting a cyclist? That’s a crash…But, I digress.

Jeff recalls that moment: “… I was exploded off of my bike and went rolling through the ditch – I remained conscious through the entire accident. As soon as I was hit, I knew I’d been hit by a vehicle but I did not know what type of vehicle had hit me. I vaguely remember a vehicle coming up behind me; however, I do know that I was riding very close to the white line when I was hit.”

Jeff knew immediately his left arm was broken. A witness stopped and assisted Jeff; the witness happened to be an EMT from Denver and was able to stabilize Jeff’s arm. EMS arrived, as did the local sheriff’s office.

The semi-driver, David McKnight, eventually walked over to Jeff. Jeff recalls, “I remember him saying, “All I did was look down for a second. I’m so sorry.”” At the time, Jeff’s left cycling shoe was nowhere near him, nor was his bike. (His Strava data showed the bike was moved several feet in the ditch post-collision, which was odd).

Jeff was transported by ambulance to the ER in Sidney, and then transferred to the ER in Scottsbluff, NE. His injuries included:

• Mid-shaft fracture of left humerus (upper arm)

• Muscle atrophy of left long-head bicep

• S.L.A.P. tear of labrum in left shoulder

• Deep laceration above left elbow

• Hairline fracture and sprained right ankle

• Severe bruising of left hip/leg

• Deeply bruised left calf/DVT (blood clot)

• Abrasions on lower back

• Cuts on head

Mr. McKnight, the semi-driver, works as a commercial driver. At the time, he was driving for Cash Wa Distributing. As part of our research and investigation in every case, we pull the at-fault driver’s DMV record. Imagine our surprise to find this commercial driver, employed to DRIVE LARGE VEHICLES ON PUBLIC ROADWAYS, had an extensive driving violation history. These infractions include: Improper Passing, Driving on Curb/Sidewalk/Shoulder, Driving during revocation, refusing alcohol test, driving under influence (1st), and driving during suspension (x2) between 1996 and 2016.

In his traffic/criminal case, Mr. McKnight had to decide whether to plead guilty or not-guilty to the charges filed against him for hitting Jeff. Mr. McKnight indicated that while he wanted to accept responsibility for his actions, he could not plead guilty because it might impact his employment as a commercial driver (!!). He was permitted to enter a plea of no contest – in which he accepted the sentence but did not have to say “guilty” on the record.

Read the full story and transcript

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