Bill before Gov. Perry aims to help drivers, cyclists share the road
By ELIZABETH ZAVALA firstname.lastname@example.org
Drivers who donít want to share the road with cyclists, pedestrians and runners: Watch out.
State lawmakers sent a message with Senate Bill 488 that, if Gov. Rick Perry signs it into law, would make it a misdemeanor to ride too near to cyclists and other vulnerable road users.
Beginning Sept. 1, motorists who donít give up a share of the road to others would face fines from $500 to $2,000 and up to 180 days in jail, depending on the severity of the violation.
Vulnerable road users are defined as pedestrians, runners, cyclists, motorcyclists, construction workers ó even someone on horseback.
Under current law, cyclists are allowed to ride in traffic lanes, but they must stay as far to the right as practical. They must also obey traffic laws, stop at stoplights and stop signs, and make turn signals with their hands.
The new bill states that drivers must allow three feet of space between themselves and a vulnerable road user; commercial vehicles must allow six feet.
"Iím thrilled about it because the way the current law reads, when a motor vehicle passes a cyclist, they have to provide safe clearance. This [new bill] gives distance," said Jim Wilson, president of the Lockheed Martin Recreation Association Bicycle Club and a recently elected Benbrook city councilman.
Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, is a co-author of the bill with Sens. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and John Carona, R-Dallas.
"I heard from quite a few constituents during my campaign, and when I got into office, I knew this was an issue Iíd be able to help them with," said Davis, who also is a cyclist and a runner.
Cyclists and runners have long complained that drivers are aggressive, while motorists complain that cyclists donít follow the rules.
Davis said that despite the complaints, each group needs to respect the otherís right to be on the road.
Terry Grisham, spokesman for the Tarrant County Sheriffís Department, acknowledged that enforcing the law would be more like a judgment call.
"Thereís no recourse for verification unless there is bodily injury or property damage," he said. "Itís almost like you are legislating common sense.
"Any driver is taught from Day One to avoid pedestrians and people on bicycles. I donít know how much this law is going to change that; and I would hope people would stay much further away than three feet from a pedestrian."
Cyclists who ride every Tuesday and Thursday at the Benbrook YMCA were excited and hopeful that drivers and cyclists will adhere to road rules.
"Iím happy, even though a lot of drivers donít understand that we have a legal right to the road, too," said Bill Cearley, who has participated in the Benbrook rides for at least 10 years. "The biggest problem is people on cellphones, or they [drivers] get angry at us for riding bikes [on the road]."
Although he was happy with the bill, Mark Whittier of the Broken Films Racing team said heíd continue to urge his cyclists to watch their moves, too.
"Cyclists arenít always compliant," said Whittier, whose group rides from the Benbrook Y on rural roads into Aledo. ". . . We want the protection, but we need to be compliant, too."
Perry has until June 21 to sign the bill, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature.
About the bill
The vulnerable road users bill, SB 488, awaiting the signature of Gov. Rick Perry, would take effect Sept. 1 if it becomes law. It has some specific requirements for drivers:
Move over The driver must vacate the lane that the vulnerable road user is in if the highway has at least two lanes in the same direction; or pass the vulnerable road user at a safe distance, defined as three feet for a car or light truck and six feet for commercial vehicles.
Watch those turns Drivers turning left at intersections must yield the right of way to a road user approaching from the opposite direction. They cannot overtake a road user going the same direction and make a right turn in front of the user unless the user is a safe distance away.
Punishment If the violation results in property damage, itís a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $500 fine. If the violation results in bodily injury, itís a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by fines up to $2,000 and up to 180 days in jail.