“Three Feet Passing” Law Aims to Improve Virginia Bicycle Safety

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Virginia motorists now have to practice safer passing when sharing the road with bicyclists. Starting July 1, a new state law requires drivers to leave at least three feet of space between their vehicles and a bicyclist while passing. The new law aims to reduce the number of bicycle accidents in Richmond and other cities.

Under this law, police officers can ticket drivers who fail to leave at least three feet of space. The failure to do so is treated as improper passing violation, which is a traffic infraction.

Drivers who break the new law may face fines, court costs and up to three points on their driver’s licenses. According to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, traffic officers are receiving training on how to judge the amount of space between a bicyclist and a passing vehicle.

Drivers who cannot immediately pass a bicyclist with sufficient space are expected to slow down and stay behind the bicyclist until the passing space becomes available.

Should Additional Safety Measures Be Adopted?

The legislation was sponsored by Sen. Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania) and endorsed by several groups, including the Virginia Bicycling Federation. The resulting law changed the required distance between a bicyclist and a passing vehicle from two feet to three feet.

The Virginia Bicycling Federation hopes this change in the law will be followed by additional safety measures such as penalties for failing to maintain a safe following distance.

Just as “tailgating” another vehicle can result in a crash, tailgating a bicyclist can cause serious injuries if the following vehicle cannot stop in time. Because bicyclists lack the protection of a vehicle’s bumpers, frame and restraint systems, the resulting injuries can be even more devastating.

Bicycle safety activists in Richmond also are concerned about “dooring.” This occurs when a parked driver opens a car door into the path of a bicyclist. Often, dooring is the result of a driver or passenger simply failing to check whether bicycles are approaching before opening a car door. When a door opens suddenly into a bicycle’s path, a bicyclist may not have time to swerve, or passing traffic may prevent the bicyclist from swerving. If the bicycle cannot be stopped in time, both the bicyclist and the car driver or passenger may be injured.

Many Richmond residents use their bicycles to get around town, get some needed exercise and enjoy the summer weather. However, according to a recent news report from WTVR, 600 bicyclists were injured in crashes on Virginia roads last year and eight lost their lives.

Bicyclists have the legal right to share Virginia roads with motor vehicles, as long as they follow the same laws cars must follow. Drivers of motor vehicles have the same responsibility to share the road safely with bicycles that they have toward drivers of others cars, trucks and buses.

By avoiding distractions, slowing down and following the law, motorists can do much to reduce the rate of serious injuries and deaths among Virginia bicyclists and make the roads safer for everyone.

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