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Bike-Related Bills in the 2014 Virginia General Assembly

General Assembly Begins Wednesday, January 8

With Session to begin tomorrow, the VBF is currently working for the passage of three bills focused on cycling. Two bills, one requiring three foot passing and another for dooring, have been introduced in the Senate by Senators Reeves and Petersen, and Delegate Comstock has introduced a “following too closely” bill in the House.

Summaries are below.

We need your help to get this legislation passed.  Please take a moment to call, email or write your Delegate and Senator and ask them to support these bills.

To determine who your legislators are, click  here.

With the hundreds of bills before the legislature, a quick call or a sentence or two with the bill numbers is all you need to do.  Remind them that this is about safety on our roads, transportation choices, and saving lives.

SB 97 — Three Foot Passing

Map of States Requiring 3 Feet to Pass*

Map of States Requiring 3 Feet to Pass*
(Map Courtesy 3feetplease.com)

This bill would help educate motor vehicle drivers to pass the drivers of any non-motorized vehicle (including a bicycle) with a wider margin of error, and thereby reduce the number of fatalities and serious injuries to these legal and legitimate road users. In addition, this bill could improve justice for all lawful and prudent drivers of non-motorized vehicles (including bicycles) who are injured by negligent following motorists. Finally, this bill would make it illegal to harass or endanger the driver of any legal vehicle by “buzzing” them.

Note that § 46.2-907 (Overtaking and passing vehicles) additionally applies to riders of bicycle and mopeds. This section says that the bike or moped rider “may overtake and pass another vehicle on either the left or right side, staying in the same lane as the overtaken vehicle, or changing to a different lane, or riding off the roadway as necessary to pass with safety.” Also, a bike or moped rider “may overtake and pass another vehicle only under conditions that permit the movement to be made with safety” and shall otherwise “comply with all rules applicable to the driver of a motor vehicle when overtaking and passing.”

§ 46.2-839. Passing bicycle, electric personal assistive mobility device, electric power-assisted bicycle, moped, animal, or animal-drawn vehicle. The sole proposed change to this statute would be to increase the minimum passing distance for bicycles and mopeds from two feet to three feet.

The current code says “pass by (at least) two feet”, but it doesn’t seem to be enough.

Recent bicyclist fatalities:  an average of 11 cyclists were fatally struck by motor vehicles in the past several years in Virginia, most of whom were hit from behind. Several were high profile cases — Daniel Hersh in Virginia Beach; Kevin Flock in Dinwiddie county; Dr. John Bell and Dr. Joe Miranda from Lynchburg; Lanie Kruszewski and Gary Burton of Richmond — all of whom were hit from behind.

Claims of a “suicide swerve”: drivers involved in such crashes may state that the cyclist swerved into them as they were passing the cyclist. A three-foot swerve or wobble is less credible than a two-foot swerve or wobble.

Extended mirrors: vehicles pulling boats, horse trailers, and trailers with lawn care equipment tend to have extended mirrors on the passenger side that extend farther than the driver realizes.

Educational value: neither drivers, cyclists or law enforcement officers carry measuring devices to know exactly how closely one vehicle is passing another, but 3 feet seems to be a recognizable educational tool to give the drivers the message to give the cyclists a wider berth (whereas any collision provides the needed proof that the passing distance was inadequate). If the changes to following too closely and passing too closely are adopted, DMV’s Virginia Drivers Manual and state Drivers Test can incorporate this information.

Enforcement: though some argue that a 3 foot law cannot be enforced, Austin, Texas passed a 3 foot ordinance in 2009.  Though slow to initially issue tickets, the City of Austin police department began an enforcement effort using undercover police officers on bikes. This new emphasis on enforcement has led to 104 citations for violation of the city’s 3 foot passing ordinance.

Nationwide practice — 22 states, plus the District of Columbia have already adopted 3 feet in their codes: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire,  Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, Wisconsin,  California (effective 9/14), Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, and Pennsylvania (who has a requires four feet.) Similar bills  are currently pending in  several other states. Thus, a 3-foot minimum distance for passing bicyclists will likely be the law in a majority of the U.S. states within a few years.

Bicycle-Friendly State criterion: the League of American Bicyclists has adopted the existence of a 3-foot minimum passing law as one criterion for ranking the bicycle friendliness of the 50 states. Virginia is currently ranked 16th  in part for lacking a 3-foot passing law. Passage of this bill would help improve Virginia’s ranking in the future which will help attract more bicycling tourists to visit Virginia.

Objections: Reasons Given for Requiring Less Passing Distance

Two feet is adequate for passing motor vehicles at low speeds: Low-speed maneuvering such as in parking lots often has vehicles as close as two feet, and the driver and passenger in the motor vehicle are protected by the vehicle, so passing by two feet seems to work well for motor vehicles.

Motorists naturally pass other motorists widely at higher speeds:  in part because lane-splitting by motor vehicles is illegal, motor vehicle drivers tend to naturally give other motor vehicles a wide berth, particularly at higher speeds.

Non-motorized drivers are more vulnerable and may naturally wobble to stay balanced: on the other hand, the bicyclist (and similar road user) lacks occupant protection, resulting in small miscalculations or errors having catastrophic consequences for the bicyclist. Moreover, two-wheeled or single-track vehicles such as bicycles must necessarily wobble some to stay balanced, whereas four-wheeled vehicles don’t wobble The catastrophic results of a collision dictate that a greater passing distance be required when a motor vehicle passes a bicyclist.

Wind blast: the wind blast from a large truck passing with two feet at high speed is far more problematic for a cyclist than for a motor vehicle. Furthermore, wind blasts from large passing vehicles can cause bicycles and mopeds to wobble even more than usual.

Differences in typical speed differentials: bicycles and mopeds generally pass other vehicles at relatively low speeds, whereas motor vehicles may pass non-motorized vehicles at speed differentials exceeding 45 MPH.

HB 82 and HB 811 — Following Too Closely

These bills amend three sections of the Code of Virginia, §§ 46.2-81646.2-838, and 46.2-839

§ 46.2-816. Following too closely. currently, this Code section applies only to motor vehicles following other motor vehicles, trailers, or semi-trailers. The proposed modification would extend the same standard of legal protection to the drivers of all vehicles that are permitted on the roadway, including bicycles, mopeds, and animal-drawn vehicles. The prohibition on following too closely would still only apply to drivers of motor vehicles, so the common (and typically safe) practice of a bicyclist drafting another bicyclist would not be affected.

§ 46.2-838. Passing when overtaking a (motor) vehicle. The proposed change would retain the current 2-foot passing distance for passing motor vehicles, but clarify that this code section applies to passing motor vehicles only. Otherwise, § 46.2-838.and § 46.2-839 would be redundant and/or confusing for bicycles, mopeds, and animal-drawn vehicles.

SB 225 — Dooring Legislation

As the number of cyclists on roads increase and bike lanes become more prevalent in our urban areas, “dooring” has become a major threat to cyclists.  It’s a threat because there is no way to prevent accidents and serious injuries.

Right now, the driver is not at fault.  Drivers are permitted to open the car door at their discretion.  There is no law to find them negligent of causing the injury.

40 States and DC have Dooring Laws on the books. (See http://www.cyclelicio.us/2013/an-american-survey-of-dooring-laws/ )

40 States and DC have Dooring Laws on the books. (See http://www.cyclelicio.us/2013/an-american-survey-of-dooring-laws/ )

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4 comments… add one

  • I’m not sure about statewide, but Sioux City IA does have a municipal code section 10.30.270 specific to opening doors in the path of traffic.

  • Good luck this go around on the door in law ( and the other bills too)

  • I support all of these…but I’m more concerned about the lack of education that drivers and even police officers receive regarding even existing statutes.
    I was at a meeting with local law enforcement a few months ago and the attending police officer–a “specialist” in dealing with bicycle safety–had no idea what the passing law was in VA in regards to bikes.
    Additionally, when I asked that the police take a more proactive role in ticketing cyclists who break the law the response was that there was ” no interest” in ticketing cyclists for doing stuff like running stop signs.
    We need to target education more than anything. A 3 foot law makes a lot of sense, but if the efforts aren’t there to make sure that driver ed programs and law enforcement training include stressing the viability of bicyclists as road users, all the laws in the world mean nothing.

  • Well, Wes, I hope they don’t heed your advice on a more proactive role in ticketing cyclists. I was talking to a local LEO at a community association meeting last fall about the same subject. I openly admitted to him to not always following the law and explained some scenarios where I felt it safer to pursue this. He said he entirely agreed and that they are worried about if decisions impact someone else, ie, lead to an accident or recklessly put myself/others in danger. I found it to be a quite thoughtful and appropriate response.

    With that said, I e-mailed my delegate and senator requesting they cosponsor or crossfile the bills as appropriate. I explained my active cycle commuting, running errands and leisure rides in the district. I also noted I’ve had some close calls with people passing me by inches on downhill sections where even as a cyclist I’m going 10mph over the speed limit.

    Also, glad to see Comstock pushing a pro-cycling bill this session. Seems like the advocacy to her has worked. It’s important too if she goes on to join the US House of Reps where it would be nice to have some more folks advocating for our safety (Earl B taking the biggest role, obviously).

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