Despite the flurry of activity in the past couple of weeks on bike issues, the House of Delegates failed to move on legislation that would provide cyclists a bit more room.  Bud Vye and others from the Virginia Bicycling Federation did a marvelous job throughout the past couple of weeks, and Bud’s final thoughts are worthy of sharing in full.  Please click on the link below.

Three Feet to Pass — Why Such Resistance?

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HB 1048 was rejected by the House of Delegates today.  The bill would have increased the passing width from the current 2 feet to 3 feet–a distance that is being adopted in a growing number of states.   Delegate Glenn Oder (Newport News) initially did not support this bill, but when the time came to vote on it, he consistently voted “yes.”  If you are in Delegate Oder’s district, please thank him for his support!

The Virginia Pilot has a brief story on the vote.

It’s important to note that the Senate companion bill (SB 566) will be considered in the House upon crossover, so this issue is not finished.  We will keep you posted.

Please take a minute to contact your Delegate today!  HB 1048 has squeaked through the Transportation Committee by a 12-9 vote and is heading for a vote in the full House on either Saturday or Monday!  Don’t know who your delegate is?  Find out here.

Thank you all for your interest and support of HB 1048, a bill proposing a 3-foot width for

Graphic courtesy of MWCOG

passingcyclists.  The bill was on the docket for the House Transportation Sub-Committee yesterday, but the time ran out before the bill was heard, so it will carry over to their next regularly scheduled meeting on Wednesday, February 10.  There is still time to contact Sub-committee members if you have not yet done so.

Also, SB566, the companion bill in the Virginia Senate, passed yesterday by a vote of 40-0.  Take a minute to note your thanks to your State Senator…

HB1048, a bill proposing to change the laws on following too closely & enacting a three-foot passing width, is on the Docket for House Transportation Sub-Committee 2 on Wednesday, February 3 @ 5 p.m.  Please make some calls or send an email supporting HB1048. All phone #’s are 804 area code at their General Assembly offices

Richmond area: John Cox (Hanover) 698-1055, deljcox@house.virginia.gov; Betsy Carr (Richmond & Eastern Chesterfield), 698-1069, delbcarr@house.virginia.gov

Tidewater area: Glenn Oder (Newport News) 698-1094, delgoder@house.virginia.gov; Jeion Ward (Hampton) 698-1092, deljward@house.virginia.gov

Northern VA: Thomas Rust (Herndon) 698-1086, deltrust@house.state.virginia.gov

Lynchburg: Scott Garrett 698-1023, delsgarrett@house.virginia.gov

and Chairman Bill Carrico from way out in Galax, 698-1005, delccarrico@house.virginia.gov

With only 7 on the sub committee, I think it is permissible for you to call the one geographically closest to you, urging them to support the change of passing distance from 2 feet to 3 feet.

TALKING POINTS

This bill would amend three sections of the Code of Virginia, §§ 46.2-816, 46.2-838, 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.

Note that § 46.2-907 (Overtaking and passing vehicles) additionally applies to riders of bicycle and mopeds. This section, which is unaffected by HB 1048 or SB 566, 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: 11 cyclists were fatally struck by Motor Vehicles in 2009 in Virginia, and most of them were hit from behind. Several were high-profile incidents: Daniel Hersh in Virginia Beach, Kevin Flock in Dinwiddie County, and Dr. Joe Mirenda near Harrisonburg, all of whom were apparently hit squarely 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. Drivers must consider a bicycle’s typical wobble when estimating the safe passing distance, and 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.

Nationwide Practice: 16 States, plus the District of Columbia have already adopted 3 feet in their codes: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, Wisconsin, and bills that would adopt the 3-foot minimum distance for passing bicyclists are currently pending in at least 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: Moreover, 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 has twice been ranked the 23rd best state, 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.

Reasons for Requiring Less Passing Distance (2-feet) for Passing Motor Vehicles:

1) 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.

2) 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.

3) 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.

4) 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.

5) 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.

Please contact your state senator (for most of us that’s Senator Tommy Norment) to ask for his support of SB 546.  SB 546 amends Virginia’s landowner liability law to specifically protect railroads from recreational use liability. This includes bike and pedestrian crossings as well as rails with trails. While some have argued that railroads are protected under current statute, they’ve countered that they’re not specifically mentioned. This amendment removes all doubt.  For more information, visit http://www.richmondsunlight.com/bill/2010/sb546/.

Don’t know who your state senator is?  Find out here.

Thanks to the good work of Bud Vye of the Virginia Bicycling Federation for keeping us up to date on bills important to bicycle and pedestrian advocates!