Sep. 28, 2011
Heads up, motorists.
If you’re passing someone riding a bicycle, you’d better keep at least 3 feet away or — as of this Saturday — you’ll be breaking the law.
Senate Bill 248 is one of two revisions to state laws the 2011 Legislature approved to make the roadways safer for bicyclists. Under Assembly Bill 328, the second revision known as the Vulnerable Highway Users Bill, motorists found at fault in a collision with a bicyclist or a pedestrian can be charged with reckless driving and face harsher penalties.
Both laws go into effect Saturday.
Sgt. Jim Stegmaier of the Reno Police Department said the law that previously required motorists to pass bicyclists at a safe distance was too vague, but the new 3-feet requirement specifically defines it.
“Everyone pretty much knows that a yardstick is 3 feet, and that’s roughly what we will use to judge,” Stegmaier said. “It’s going to be an eyeballing type of measurement. We won’t get down to inches, but if motorists brush too close, we will cite them.”
He said the fuzzy wording of the original statute would have been harder to enforce, but the 3-feet rule provides a concrete distance.
Now law enforcement officers will be able to stop motorists who violate it and either educate them about the new rule or give them a ticket, Stegmaier said.
“We have people who literally try to push bicyclists into the gutter as opposed to understanding that they have to share the road with them,” he said.
The law also requires that motorists get into the left lane, if possible, when passing bicyclists from behind, Stegmaier said. If driver’s can’t safely get into the left lane, then they need to give the bicyclist 3 feet of berth.
“When an oversized delivery truck passes a bicyclist, you can see the bicyclist’s elbows almost hitting the side of the truck,” he said. “The day of squeezing by like that are over without someone being culpable for it now.”
To celebrate the bicycle-friendly laws and raise public awareness of the new statutes, bicyclists are invited to take part in a parade being held Saturday by the Nevada Bicycle Coalition and Reno Bike Project.
Terry McAfee, president of the Nevada Bicycle Coalition, said there are no sign-ups or cost required to take part in the 8-mile ride, which will start at the plaza across from Reno City Hall on First and Virginia streets and ends at Sparks City Hall on Prater Way.
“Our goal is to have 300 bicyclists,” McAfee said.
The first 50 riders who show up will be entered in a raffle for one “3 Feet Please — It’s the Law” bicycle jersey that McAfee has donated.
The event is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. with the recognition of some state legislators and Reno City Council members who supported the bills or local bicycle road improvement projects, McAfee said.
The bicycle parade will start at 10:30 a.m.
Noah Silverman, founder and executive director of Reno Bike Project, said revisions in the statewide laws are big steps toward making roadways safer for bicyclists.
“The purpose of this parade is to bring awareness to the new laws that take effect that day, but the other purpose is to show our appreciation to the people who helped get them passed,” he said.
Those include Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson, D-Reno, Assemblyman David Bobzien, D-Reno, Reno Councilman Dave Aiazzi and the Nevada Bicycle Coalition, Silverman said.
“It’s going to take a while for motorists and cyclists alike to become aware of these laws, but I think motorists will realize that they have to treat cyclists with more respect because it is now in their best interests to do so,” Silverman said.
Stegmaier said bicyclists also are required to follow the same rules of the road as motorists.
That includes riding in the same direction as traffic, obeying traffic lights and stop signs, and signaling when making a turn.
In fact, bicyclists making a left turn are supposed to get into that far left turn lane just like motorists, he said.
“We want everyone’s trip to be safer and for everyone to share the road,” Stegmaier said.
NRS 484B.270: The law previously required motorists passing a bicyclist or electric bicycle from behind “to do so safely without endangering the rider.” The revision passed last year is more specific. It requires motorists traveling in the same direction as a bicyclists to move into the left lane if possible, or otherwise, leave at least 3 feet between the vehicle and the bicycle when passing.
NRS 484B.653: Motorists who are at fault in a collision with a bicyclist or a pedestrian can be charged with reckless driving and face increased penalties.
Motorists who violate the laws can be found guilty of a misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and/or six months in jail. Repeat offenses are punishable by higher fines and possible driver’s license suspension. A violation of either law that results in serious injury or death can result in felony charges.
Source: Nevada Revised Statutes