Panel OKs bicycle safety bill

Danny Rathbun

Capital News Service

Virginia motorists would have to give bicyclists a little more room on the road under a bill approved unanimously by the Senate Transportation Committee.

Senate Bill 928 would increase from two to three feet the minimum distance for cars passing bicycles. The bill also would add bicycles and mopeds to the list of vehicles that cars cannot follow “more closely than is reasonable.”

Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Mechanicsville, who proposed the bill, said he was against the idea in the past, but a personal experience recently changed his mind.

“I’d been a little resistant to the concept until I had an experience over the summer, while I was riding my bike … and had somebody pass me at a rather close distance,” McDougle said.

Champe Burnley, president of the Virginia Bicycling Federation, said that while an extra 12 inches may not seem like a lot, it would make a big difference for cyclists in Virginia.

“We had 11 fatalities last year – 11 fatalities the year before – of bicyclists hit by vehicles,” he said. ”We feel that this will help.”
Burnley said the extra foot of passing room would bring Virginia up to the standard recommended by the League of American Bicyclists. This would entice more bicyclists to visit Virginia, he said.

“It’s a great state for tourism bicycling,” Burnley said. “People who come in from out of state to ride here know, as we have already known, what a beautiful area it is to ride in.”

Sen. John Watkins, R-Midlothian, said he’s not sure the proposed law can realistically be enforced.

“How many people have we cited in this state for passing a bike too closely?” Watkins asked. “Have we ever cited anybody?”

Even so, Watkins voted for SB 928, along with the 14 other members of the Senate Transportation Committee. The bill now is awaiting action by the full Senate.

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