Naked City

Bike legislation has cyclists' safety in mind

Hoping to address one of the most common causes of bicycle fatalities in Texas, Rodney Ellis' SB 859, the bicycle "safe passing bill," is working its way through the Senate. The legislation would mandate a minimum passing distance for motorists coming up on bikes, which would help establish liability in collisions between cars and bicycles. SB 859 stipulates that a motorist must vacate the lane a cyclist is traveling in on a two-lane road. On a single-lane road, drivers of cars and light trucks must allow at least three feet when passing, and commercial trucks must allow at least six feet. Violations resulting in bodily injury would be prosecuted as a class B misdemeanor. Non-injury violations would result in a $500 to $1,000 fine.

"This is the most important bill ever before the Texas Legislature for Texans who ride bikes," said Robin Stallings, executive director of the Texas Bicycle Coalition. "If followed, SB 859 has the potential to save 20 lives per year in the state of Texas. Of the 135 bicycle traffic fatalities reported by the Texas Department of Public Safety from 2002 to 2004 … 59 were characterized as collisions involving a motor vehicle passing a slower-moving bicyclist traveling in the same direction on an open stretch of road," according to Senate testimony by Riley Geary of the Institute for Traffic Safety Analysis.

SB 859 came up for a vote on Monday, but was blocked by Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine. A statement e-mailed from his office reads, "Current law already has provisions that protect the safe passage of vehicles of all types on our state's roads. Our roads were built for all to enjoy, and venues already exist to pursue reckless driving violations. Further, I am concerned for the safety of motor drivers who already face the dangerous situation of passing a bicyclist on a two-lane road. There is no way for the traffic behind the bicyclist to pass at a safe distance or to vacate the lane in situations involving oncoming traffic. Therefore, the vehicle operator will have to follow the bicyclist resulting in an impediment of traffic, which can be a violation of current state law stating an operator may not drive so slowly as to impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic."

Stallings said the bill has garnered broad bipartisan support. "Everybody knows interest in cycling in Texas is rapidly growing. Senator Ellis wants to raise awareness and encourage more cycling and more cycling safety," said Jeremy Warren, communications director for Ellis. "The senator is a biker, he just finished a ride in New York and he participates in the MS 150 every year. He knows the serious hazards cyclists face on Texas roads." Scott Korcz, president of the Austin Cycling Association said, "A lot of people ride bikes and their message is bubbling up to legislators for a lot of reasons – obesity, energy crisis – cycling is the answer to these problems." More info at www.biketexas.org.


Austin Bike Month Rides On

It's still Austin Bike Month, and there are plenty of people-powered activities happening throughout the end of May. See www.austincycling.org for a full list of events.
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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

transportation, fatalities, Rodney Ellis, Todd Staples, SB 859, Robin Stallings, Texas Bicycle Coalition, Texas Department of Public Safety, Riley Geary, Jeremy Warren, Scott Korcz, Austin Cycling Association, Institute for Traffic Safety Analysis

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