Here in Ohio, the House will be considering HB145, which would do two things:
1) require a 3-foot passing clearance for bicycles, and
2) allow for proceeding against a red light (when it’s safe) if the detector under the pavement does not detect you (applies to any vehicle — bike, car, motorcycle).
Already, 25 states have the 3-foot minimum written into their state laws, and Pennsylvania even has a 4-foot law in theirs.
Currently, Ohio’s law states only that the passing clearance must be a “safe” distance. Well, as I know from plenty of experience, many motorists apparently think even 6 inches can be safe. With only a slight variance or unsteady hand by either the driver or cyclist on a close passing, the cyclist can be injured or killed. Thus, in my opinion, this law is a “life or death” issue.
You might ask: “Yes, but would anyone actually drive differently if this became law?” Here’s one reason why I think it would have an actionable, positive impact:
The driver’s manual, which we study before getting a license, would state the 3-foot minimum. Currently, a person’s eyes probably read right past a phrase like “safe distance” because, sure, everything must be “safe” when it comes to driving, and the person does not give it any real consideration. But if the law specifies 3 feet, their minds will note this (hey, it might be on the exam!) and they can picture this and truly consider it and therefore follow it.
And beyond just the driver’s manual, having it specified in the law makes it easier to talk about and have it properly visualized in any setting such as a media article, bike safety materials for your children, and contested situations. The vague words “safe distance” just mean nothing, really, because no one thinks they would ever do anything unsafe. Having an easily referenced clearance distance also makes it easier for me to yell something quickly at the jerk who almost just killed me (haha, I actually do not yell at drivers since I’ve heard too many tales of 4000-lb cars deciding to retaliate when a cyclist has flipped them off or otherwise angered them).
The bill would promote motorist safety too
It doesn’t seem like this law would have anything to do with motorist safety, only a cyclist’s, but here is why it would help prevent head-on collisions between vehicles:
As the new law is explained, we and the media can remind the public that to give 3 feet to a cyclist who is riding in the lane means needing to cross over the center line. This, in turn, means needing to assess whether it is safe to do so based on no oncoming cars or no “potential” oncoming cars due to a blind hill or blind curve ahead. This could mean, in turn, that an overtaking vehicle MUST SLOW DOWN and wait until it’s safe to pass — as opposed to what so many do now, which is to cause a potential head-on collision.
You would not believe how many near-collisions I’ve witnessed, with slammed brakes, horns honking, and dangerous swerves when a car or truck passes me in the oncoming lane directly toward a car. Heaven forbid they would ever consider slowing down and waiting until it’s actually safe to pass a cyclist. And I’ve sweated out countless occasions when a car passes in the oncoming lane when he has no idea if a car is coming around the blind hill or curve ahead. My previous blog postings have noted some specific examples of this, like the time the car passing me and the oncoming car appearing suddenly over the top of the hill slammed on their brakes and stopped only a foot from each other’s bumpers right next to me.
By the way, now that I’ve seen how so many motorists will dangerously pass a cyclist like this, when I’m driving into a blind hill or curve myself, I’m extra cautious and prepared for some crazy to be heading directly into me. I no longer assume that my lane will be clear ahead where I cannot yet see.
Proceeding against a red light when it’s not functioning properly
In previous blog postings I’ve mentioned this topic and explained why cyclists need to go ahead through a dysfunctional red light when it is safe to do so. This new Ohio law would clarify that such an action would be legal – as long as you stay at the intersection long enough to “prove” it is not detecting you (or otherwise not functioning properly to turn green for you).
Currently, Ohio and many states have laws allowing for motorists to proceed under specified circumstances of not getting a green light. This sets a precedent for the concept of needing to proceed regardless of why the traffic signal is dysfunctional, but it would be extremely helpful for ALL vehicles (and remember, a bicycle is a vehicle) to be allowed to do the logical thing instead of thinking they need to sit there all day or else they are breaking the law.
Is a traffic signal “not working properly” if it detects larger vehicles but not a bicycle? Many law enforcement people and cycling legal experts have debated this. HB145 would end such arguments about the legal technicalities of it, and allow for logic to prevail. Heck, a bicycle is a vehicle; detectors at intersections are supposed to detect vehicles; if they do not detect a bicycle vehicle, they are not functioning properly. And under HB145, if the signal is not functioning properly by never giving you your green light (for whatever reason), you may proceed when safe to do so. Yeah!