Saturday, January 08, 2011

Washington State to consider a different type of Safe Passing Law

BikePortland is reporting that the Washington State Legislature is considering a Safe Passing Law that goes beyond the typical "3-foot Passing Law." The bill as it is written so far, would require passing vehicles going less than 35 mph to pass bicyclist by a minimum of 3 feet.  At any speed greater than that, the minimum passing distance would increase to 5 feet.  However in coming up with the current language bicyclists are asked to make some concessions such as requirements to keep right and to use shoulders and bike lanes with some exceptions.

Portland attorney and cyclist Ray Thomas explains Oregon's "Safe Passing Law"
in this excellent video with the help of The Bicycle Transportation Alliance.

 Most of these requirements seem reasonable.  However the one thing that has some Washington State cyclist concerned is the language that would require bicyclists to move right if they are not keeping up with the “legal and normal flow” of traffic.  I agree with them and this could be a bargain that they might not want to make in their quest for a safe passing law. BikePortland summarizes the proposed legislation well, so I quote:
To highlight a few key aspects of the bill, it:
  • Defines a safe passing distance of bicycles by motorists as “three feet lateral separation between the closest part of the motor vehicle and the closest part of the bicycle or pedestrian,” when a motor vehicle is traveling less than 35 m.p.h. and five feet at greater speeds.
  • Mandates “every driver of a motor vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any bicyclist.”
  • Specifies that cyclists traveling on a roadway slower than the “legal and normal flow” of traffic must ride as far right as “judged reasonably safe by the bicyclist.”
  • Specifies that a cyclist traveling slower than the “legal and normal flow” ride in the paved shoulder, or designated bike lane when traffic is present and “such use is reasonably judged safe by the bicyclist.”
  • Provides a partial list of unsafe conditions that may require a cyclist to ride in lane positions other than the far right. The list includes road hazards, the potential to be doored and being passed at “less than a safe distance.”
  • Requires that bicyclists yield to pedestrians when riding on sidewalks, crosswalks, multi-use trail or trails but, does not relieve a pedestrian of the “of the obligation to exercise due care."
BikePortland also goes into detail about the faults and limitations of Oregon's own safe passing law which on the face of it has some good language, primarily that it requires overtaking drivers to give bicyclists enough clearance that if the cyclist were to fall over, they would not be hit by the car.  This essentially requires drivers to pass by six feet but there are significant limitations to this language (see video above).  Take a closer look for yourself.

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