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Rural Lawmakers Balk At Share-The-Road Laws

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The new Virginia law would require cars to give cyclists at least a three-foot berth, which on some roads could prevent them from passing entirely.
Elliott Francis
The new Virginia law would require cars to give cyclists at least a three-foot berth, which on some roads could prevent them from passing entirely.

Virginia motorists would need to increase their distance from cyclists when they pass them under legislation that has cleared the state Senate. The measure is intended to enhance safety for those who are riding bicycles on the roads, but some lawmakers from rural areas warn that the well-intentioned measure might create a new problem.

The bill requires drivers to increase their distance when passing cyclists from two to three feet. Sen. Chap Peterson argued that it's a genuine safety concern.

"We had an event recently in which a man relayed the story of a young lady who was struck from behind on her vehicle and killed on River Road in the city of Richmond," Peterson says. "And too many people die, and I'm not saying this law will necessarily prevent that in total. But I do think this is a critical issue."

But Senator and former state trooper Charles Carrico said narrow, two-lane country roads are also a problem. He said the bill would cause drivers who pass slower cyclists to inadvertently break the law by crossing the double-yellow line.

"The lane of travel on a two-lane highway is 11 feet, 6 inches. A normal vehicle is about 8 feet," Carrico says. "If you have a bicycle that's a foot wide and you got 3 feet, if you have a double-sided line, you have to cross the double-sided line to pass the bicycle, which, within the code, is illegal."

Senators have also passed a bill to make it illegal to open a car door on the side next to moving traffic until it's reasonably safe to do so. They said this so-called "dooring" is especially hazardous to cyclists.

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