New law offers breathing room for bicyclists

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By Marie E. Matyjaszek

We often see signs and bumper stickers urging motorists to “Share the Road” and “Look Twice, Save a Life,” both of which remind drivers to look out for motorcyclists on the highways of Michigan.

It’s not often that the alerts turn to the safety of bicyclists who pedal along the roads. Sure, plenty of towns and cities have designated bike lanes, but the awareness and safety aspects are far less prominent when it comes to riding a Schwinn as opposed to a Harley.

That changed as of September 26, when the state enacted a law that requires motorists to maintain a minimum of 3 feet of distance between their vehicle and the bicycle that they are passing on the road.
The law is a much-needed response to a series of bicycle-car accidents over the past few years, including a crash near Kalamazoo in June 2016 when nine bicyclists were struck by a car, killing five.

“Requiring motorists to maintain a safe distance while passing a bicyclist ensures safety for both the cyclist and motorist,” said Rep. Holly Hughes, R-Montague, who sponsored the legislation. “The number of bicycle fatalities is on the rise and this legislation is an attempt to reverse that trend.”

The new law means that the driver of a vehicle overtaking a bicycle proceeding in the same direction shall keep a distance of 3 feet away from that bicycle.

If it is impracticable to pass the bicycle at a distance of 3 feet, then keep at a safe distance of that bicycle at a safe speed.

Beginning in 2019, driver’s education training will include at least an hour of instruction on pedestrian, motorcycle and bicycle laws in the state of Michigan. Violations of the law are treated as civil infractions. 

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the vast majority of states have similar 3-foot passing laws for bicycles, although North Carolina allows 2 feet, while Pennsylvania provides for 4 feet of space. South Dakota requires 3 feet if the speed limit is 35 mph or less, but it increases to 6 feet for roads that have speed limits over 35 mph.

Some states require drivers to completely change lanes if the road has two lanes in the same direction.

It may be hard to judge a distance of 3 feet when driving, but motorists should err on the side of caution and give bicyclists as much space as possible when passing. 

Considering that I have two children who love to ride their bicycles (streamers, bells and baskets included), I’m certainly delighted that the law is finally catching up to the need for the safety of all bicyclists on the road. 

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The author is an Attorney Referee at the Washtenaw County Friend of the Court; however, the views expressed in this column are her own.  Her blog site is: http://legalbling.blogspot.com. She can be reached at matyjasz@hotmail.com.
 

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