Kentucky needs a safer passing law for bicycles for motorists and cyclists, and we might get one.
House Bill 33 passed the House Feb. 9 with a 73 to 3 vote and now heads to the Senate.
The bill would make three-feet minimum clearance when passing a bicycle the standard in Kentucky, as it is in 34 other states.
Kentucky law considers a bicycle a vehicle, and a bicycle is legal on all roads except limited access. But laws have not kept up with the use of bicycles. The current law only states “… vehicles overtaking other vehicles … shall pass to the left of them and shall not again drive to the right until reasonably clear ...”
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Kentuckians commute on bicycles to school and work, ride for health and recreation and use bicycles for short trips and errands. Last year, eight people were killed on bicycles on Kentucky roads, and seven were killed in 2016.
In 2016, bicycle fatalities represent two percent of all traffic fatalities and seven percent of all traffic injuries, yet bicycle trips account for only one percent of all trips in the United States.
For two years, a bill based on the American League of Cyclists model legislation requiring motorists to give at least three-feet clearance when passing a bicycle has passed the Kentucky Senate but failed to be heard in the House.
HB 33, introduced this year by Rep. Jerry Miller of Louisville, allows motorists to legally cross a yellow line to pass a bicycle if there is an unobstructed view with no traffic. Because of the comparatively slow speed of a bicycle compared to a car and the good visibility around a cyclist, this is a common practice and legal in many other states.
Last year, a Senate floor amendment exempted different categories of slow large farm machinery and commercial vehicles from allowing a three-foot passing requirement aimed at situations on narrow farm roads, which, while well-intentioned, would be dangerous to cyclists on larger roads.
This year there is additional wording in the bill: “If space on the roadway is not available to have a minimum distance of three feet between the vehicle and the bicycle then the passing vehicle is to use reasonable caution in passing the bicyclist.”
Since the large majority of bicycle-motorist collisions happen on larger roads in urban and suburban settings, this wording in an acceptable compromise to rural interests.
Cycling is becoming a larger part of our transportation mix. Cycling reduces traffic congestion, transportation costs, air and noise pollution and has benefits for tourism and health. The average bicycle trip is 3.9 miles. Yet, concerns about safety consistently rank as the top deterrent to bicycling.
Safe passing laws are not as effective as bike lanes in increasing cycling safety and they are not a replacement for separating bicycle from motor traffic. They promote safety through setting a statewide standard and being a highly visible platform for education at little cost.
The Kentucky Bicycle and Bikeway Commission has, for the third year, endorsed a safe passing law. The Transportation Cabinet is supportive of HB 33. More information is on the Facebook page “Safer Passing Law for Bicycles in KY” and on the Bluegrass Cycling club website, http://www.bgcycling.net/.
If you want a safer passing law, write, email or leave a message for your senator at 1-800-372-7181.
We can make cycling safer in Kentucky for the benefit of all Kentuckians.
Dixie Moore is a retired psychologist and recreational and urban cyclist in Lexington.