Will New York State Bicyclists Finally get a Brake?

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?

Efforts to adopt a “safe passing law” here have failed in the past, and a “Share the Road Provision” that passed in the state Senate back in May also appears to have stalled.

The legislation would apply to all towns and villages across the state, as well as cities with populations of less than one million.

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.

Such a measure is supported by the Westchester Cycle Club.

Image by TazzyDesigns

“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.”

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

In early July Harckham’s measure was still awaiting co-sponsorship in the state Assembly, where Assemblyman Phil Steck had introduced a similar bill, but one that includes New York City. Steck’s bill, however, had no Senate co-sponsor.

Any such measure would require passage by both houses and 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 last spring 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.

(Photo by Jorge Salcedo)

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 was approved by the Assembly’s Transportation Committee, but it had not come up for a vote by the full Assembly as of early July. 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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About the Author: Robert Brum