New rules for bicycle safety are not needed
But it's important to make motorists aware that they have a legal responsibility to maintain a safe distance between them and bicyclists.
By the Union-Bulletin Editorial Board
Bicyclists and motorists are supposed to share the road.
But coexisting in that space is far from equal. Let's face it, bicycles are vulnerable compared to 4,000 pound cars and trucks. That's why it is important to have laws to protect bicyclists -- to level the playing field so to speak.
Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle -- an avid bicyclist -- is promoting legislation that would mandate motorists stay three feet away from bicyclists and pedestrians when passing.
In theory, it's a good idea. In fact, the Washington state driver's guide already recommends that three-foot buffer and the law mandates "a safe distance."
If the three-foot distance was a requirement it would take away some of the flexibility needed to be a safe driver. Sometimes that isn't possible such as when a car or even a bicyclist is on the other side. Also, it's not always fair to put the onus on the motorists. Sometimes bicyclists (or pedestrians) create unsafe situations.
The law, as it is now written, would appear to be sufficient. But more needs to be done to make sure motorists understand their responsibility and to crack down on those who don't.
Perhaps Pedersen's effort to amend the law will serve that purpose. The issue is now getting attention around the state and is being commented on by a variety of organizations from the Teamsters to the Washington State Patrol.
"It's our hope that if nothing else comes out of this bill," said State Patrol spokesman Jeff DeVere, "That people pay attention to giving bicyclists as much room as possible when passing."
So, too, do we.
Local bicycle commuter and advocate, Andy Pryor's response:
I ride a bicycle and am responding to the Union Bulletin’s opinion that new rules for bicycle safety are not needed.
The new law, HB 1491, put forward in the state legislature by Representative Pederson and sponsored by our local Representative Walsh, is a reasonable and thought out piece of legislation that is designed to provide more clarity to an existing law. All that is being asked is that at a minimum three feet of clearance should be given to bicycles and pedestrians. This legislation aligns the recommendation in the driver’s education manual with the laws that govern our public right of ways. The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs and the Washington State Patrol have been consulted in the drafting of this legislation and are in support. The intention of this legislation is to provide a clear definition of what is safe; three feet is the standard that has been set by 11 other states.
As I ride up Mill Creek Road I am hoping that this legislation will help motorists understand why when there is an oncoming car I have my left arm extended to stop them from passing. The lanes are too narrow, the speeds are too fast and since there is no shoulder I have no place to go.