New bill aims to fix street biking’s 3 ft rule for drivers despite other bike-bill failures

by | Feb 20, 2015 | POLITICS

A bill allowing motorists to cross double yellow lines for the sake of passing cyclists is headed for its last battle in the House before it becomes law.

A bill allowing motorists to cross double yellow lines for the sake of passing cyclists is headed for its last battle in the House before it becomes law.

Senate Bill 781, sponsored by Sen. Kenneth Alexander, D-Norfolk, incorporates three bills of similar legislation from this session.

Champe Burnley, President of the Virginia Bicycling Federation, said these bills work with a bill passed last year, which requires driver to leave 3 feet between their vehicle and cyclists when passing them.

“The prior law had required cars to pass by only two feet and as far as moving 40, 45, 50 mph, two feet is awfully close,” Burnley said. “And it doesn’t sound like a lot but that extra foot really makes a big difference in the safety and comfort of the cyclists.”

But extending the amount of space required by law made some drivers question the legality of crossing double yellow lines, even for the safety of cyclists or pedestrians.

“Technically you’re not supposed to so good for them,” Burnley said. “But the problem there is that sometimes we would find that cars would get right up on the backs of bicycles, which is a little bit intimidating. Or that you would have one driver that wouldn’t pass and then traffic would start to back up.”

Bud Vye, Bicycling Advocacy Director for the Richmond Area Bicycling Association, said most motorists are already crossing double lines without concern.

“The vast majority of motorists do it already and so they’re technically doing an unlawful activity. But everybody does it,” Vye said. “I’ve done it myself a couple of times today going around people walking in the street because the sidewalks are not clear and there’s snow all over.”

Burnley said that while most drivers pass freely without fear of repercussions, this bill would codify that flexibility for motorists.

Vye said opponents of this bill usually say experts put the double yellow line because it is unsafe to cross at that point. But Vye said they were not considering that situation in terms of cyclists and pedestrians.

“They’re talking about moving vehicles that are unsafe to pass in that situation,” Vye said. “They’re not talking about a bicycle who is much shorter than motor vehicle and much less wide and much slower moving.”

While hopes are high for the outcome of SB781, one bill benefitting the cycling community has already failed to make it out of committee this session.

Sen. Chap Peterson, D-Fairfax, introduced SB882, which would have set a fine no more than $50 for motorists who unsafely open their car doors into traffic lanes. The bill failed report out of committee in a 4-3 vote.

Burnley said according to the DMV, there were 209 “dooring” incidents. 65 people were injured and only 13 of those were bicyclists.

“So the vast majority of people that were involved with these were not bicyclists, Burnley said. “It’s not really a bike bill, it’s a traffic safety bill.”

Senate Bill 781 is still alive and up for it’s third and final reading in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Vye said the bill is common sense and works to make the roads safer for cyclists and pedestrians alike.

“Everything is always if it’s safe,” Vye said. “The responsibility is on you as the driver. If something happens, it’s your fault. So you’ve got to be sure you’re safe.”

Brad Kutner

Brad Kutner

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