Bill requires drivers to give cyclists enough space
By GARY SCHARRER
Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
May 9, 2009, 8:46PM
Blogging Texas politics AUSTIN — Cyclists always worry about close calls with motorists. That’s why many are paying attention to legislation making headway with Texas lawmakers this spring aiming to make drivers more responsible for their vehicles.
Motorists could be charged with a misdemeanor offense if they don’t give cyclists at least three feet passing clearance in most circumstances.
“It’s important for motorists to understand that close counts — just like in horseshoes,” said Robin Stallings, executive director of BikeTexas. “This bill has the potential to educate motorists that getting close is far more dangerous than they expected.”
The Safe Passing Bill (SB 488) also would ban the “right hook,” a dangerous turn made in front of a vulnerable road user — including cyclists, pedestrians, runners, motorcyclists and construction workers. Violations could result in a $500 fine.
Accidents resulting in injury could subject motorists to a Class B misdemeanor, with a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine.
Fifty Texas bicycle riders were killed and 274 suffered incapacitating injuries last year, according to a preliminary Texas Department of Transportation report.
Cindi Snell still has vivid memories of a near collision on a San Antonio street a couple years ago when a young motorist sped up to pass her and then slammed on his brakes to make a sudden turn. He hit another motorist.
“It was one of those instantaneous things where you just go, ‘Oh my gosh, I just narrowly avoided being crushed by a car.’ It was really a narrow escape,” Snell said.
The Senate already has approved the bill, which is awaiting House action before it goes to the governor to be signed into law.
“Everyone that I know who walks, runs, rides, has a moped or an electrified bicycle has had just harrowing stories to tell,” Snell said. “Sometimes, I guess, we’re just hard to notice.”
Growing concerns about clean air and vehicle congestion will drive more people to alternative transportation in the coming years, she said.
“We have to be integrated into the transportation world,” Snell said.
“To know that there was public awareness and support for alternative forms of transportation would be an awesome thing.”
Of the roughly Texas 50 cyclists killed each year, 40 percent involve accidents caused by motorists who didn’t pass safely, said Stallings, of BikeTexas, whose bicycle coalition focuses on increasing awareness and interest in bicycle access, safety and education.
“More people are cycling all the time. We want to make sure that crashes and fatalities don’t go up with that increased cycling,” Stallings said. “The best way to do that is to begin to educate at the earliest levels.”
An estimated 6.6 million Texans are occasional bike riders and about 30,000 belong to some biking organization, Stallings said.
The bill would require commercial vehicles and large trucks to give bicyclists and other vulnerable road users at least six feet of passing clearance.
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