Proposed law would increase safety zone for bicyclists by foot

ANNAPOLIS — A proposed law being considered by the Maryland General Assembly would require motorists passing bicyclists to give the cyclists a wider berth. The current law requires drivers to be at least three feet from riders; the proposed law would extend that distance to four feet.

House Bill 92 was introduced by Del. Jon S. Cardin. The first hearing on the bill was Tuesday. Despite the three-foot law, injuries and deaths of bicyclists hit by cars continue, Cardin said. The current law is often ignored, Cardin said. A recent study by Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future found that one in six motor vehicle passes in Baltimore, or about 17 percent, violated the current law, according to information provided by Cardin’s office. Of course, changing the law alone will not be enough, he said. Cardin also supports increased educational efforts for drivers.

Maryland would join Pennsylvania as the only other state to require a four-foot passing distance.

Driver/bicyclist encounters have been an issue locally upon occasion, said local cyclist Larry Brock.

“I have at least three friends who were hit by vehicles in Allegany County. None of the injuries were … life threatening, but it didn’t make for a fun day,” said Brock. Awareness by both bicyclists and drivers is important, Brock said. Bicyclists need to realize they shouldn’t be going down the middle of a seemingly empty road and drivers need to be aware of cyclists, he said. It’s a matter of respect on both sides, Brock said.

Cardin said the change in the law can save lives. “There have simply been too many incidents of injury and even death from drivers failing to pass at safe distances,” said Cardin. “While increasing driver and rules-of-the-road education remain crucial, increasing the passing distance from three feet to four will protect cyclists,” Cardin said.

In 2012, more than 800 cyclist-motorist collisions were recorded and at least five of them resulted in fatalities, according to information provided by Cardin’s office.

Cardin was a sponsor of the 2010 law which established Maryland’s three-foot passing requirement and he is chairman of the Maryland General Assembly Bicycle and Pedestrian Caucus.

The law would have little financial impact, according to a fiscal and policy note prepared by the state Department of Legislative Services.

There is a “potential minimal increase in general fund revenues to the extent additional people receive citations under the bill’s provisions. Enforcement can be handled with existing resources,” according to the fiscal and policy note. Violating the current law has a penalty of a fine up to $500.

Matthew Bieniek can be contacted at mbieniek@times-news.com.

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