Will New York State Bicyclists Finally get a Brake? 

Byciclist waiting for the light to turn green (photo Leon Seibert)

Will New York finally join some 35 other states that require drivers to give bicyclists at least 3 feet of space when passing on them on the road? 

While similar efforts to adopt a “safe passing law” have stalled before, a new “Share the Road Provision” may be gathering momentum. The measure recently passed in the state Senate and is awaiting action by the Assembly. 

The law would apply to cities with a population of less than one million and all towns and villages across the state. 

Although state law already requires drivers to leave a vague “safe distance” when overtaking cyclists on the road, the 3-foot provision is meant to provide a clear definition and a means of enforcement for police. 

“With more motorists and cyclists sharing our roadways than ever before, we need to ensure everyone’s safety by necessitating a buffer zone when vehicles are passing bicyclists,” said state Sen. Pete Harckham, the Westchester County Democrat who introduced the bill. “The legislation I have sponsored mandates that motorists give cyclists a good amount of space on the road, with no exceptions, and just this simple, common sense provision will save lives across the state.” 

Such a measure is supported by the Westchester Cycle Club. 

“WCC has long advocated passage of a 3-foot passing law to avoid accidents and ensure safe cycling,” club Vice President Robert Herman said. “Two-third of the states mandate at least three feet in passing a cyclist. It has worked well in neighboring states, such as Connecticut. Pennsylvania mandates four feet. New York needs to catch up with established safe cycling practices in the rest of the country.” 

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New York City was exempted from the legislation because of the challenges created by its population density, Harckham said.  

Harckham’s measure now needs to pass in the state Assembly, where Assemblyman Phil Steck introduced a similar bill. It would then require the governor’s signature to become law. 

Last year, nearly 850 bicyclists in the U.S. died in accidents with motor vehicles, according to figures cited by Harckham. Most accidents involving vehicles and cyclists were caused by driver inattention and failure to yield.  

Harckham pointed out that bicycles are legally defined as vehicles, and cyclists are subject to the same rights and responsibility as motorists.  

Bicyclists must obey all traffic laws, signs and signals, yield the right-of-way where appropriate and follow the same rules for indicating and making turns. Like motorists, bicyclists must travel in the same direction as the flow of traffic. 

Also passed recently by the state Senate is a bill requiring that bicycle and pedestrian safety laws be taught during the five-hour pre-licensing course that applicants take before scheduling a road test for a driver’s license.  

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Andrew Gounardes of Brooklyn, would require the test to include questions dealing with how to safely pass a bicyclist on the road, the dangers of motor vehicles to bicyclists and pedestrians, and exercising care to avoid colliding with a bicyclist or pedestrian. 

A companion bill is before the Assembly’s Transportation Committee, where it would require passage before it can come up for a vote by the full Assembly. It would then need the governor to sign it into law. 

Interested in bicycling? Check out Shifting Gears, Robert Brum’s cycling blog. 



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