As the history of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be written now and long into the future, one chapter, if not a significant part of any book, will cover the surge in travel by bicycle. The two-wheel, non-motorized transports provided an opportunity to be outdoors and exercise instead of being holed up at home.
However, with those advantages came drawbacks, if not significant risks. Bicyclists have had to navigate roads alongside an increased number of distracted and speeding drivers operating larger vehicles. To make matters worse, texting seems to be a higher priority than focusing on their surroundings.
Reducing crashes through safe passage laws
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that 2019 saw nearly 900 bicyclists losing their lives, with 49,00 injured in traffic accidents. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released estimates that more than 143,000 bicyclists were sent to emergency rooms due to crashes involving a motor vehicle.
Those statistics have forced states to take action, enacting new laws that mandate specific passing requirements combined with increasing the space between motor vehicles and bicycles.
California is part of a 44-state contingent – with the District of Columbia – to enact safe passing laws, doubling over the previous decade. Motorists must stay three feet away from bicyclists or move one lane over if it is available. Double yellow lines can also be crossed provided that there is no oncoming traffic.
The laws are similar to “move over” requirements in every state when it comes to slowing down or changing lanes when passing emergency vehicles, tow trucks, and transportation maintenance vehicles.
To date, eight of those states have more vague statutes that require “safe distance,” and arbitrary term that makes it difficult to enforce. Four states – Alaska, Idaho, Indiana, New Mexico, and Texas – lack any type of laws.
Regardless of the state where they reside and laws that help keep them safe, bicycle accidents involving a larger vehicle will have similar and sometimes tragic outcomes.