Monday, February 20, 2012

Following Bicyclists Too Closely Talking Points

HB 1950 & HB 2124 (2013 Session)
SB 264 & HB 785 (2012 Session)
(Version #2: 1/14/13)
1) Bill Objectives: This bill would require the driver of a motor vehicle to not follow any motorized or non-motorized vehicle (including a bicycle or an animal-drawn vehicle) “more closely than is reasonable and prudent” and thereby help reduce the numbers of fatalities and serious injuries to lawful and legitimate non-motorized road users. By simply deleting the second mention of “motor” in § 46.2-816, this bill would: 1) help educate motorists to be considerate of all drivers and passengers of non-motorized vehicles, 2) make it clearly illegal to harass or endanger the driver or passengers of any legal vehicle by tailgating, and 3) help improve justice for the drivers and passengers of lawfully operating non-motorized vehicles (including bicycles) who are injured by negligent following motorists.
2) Bill Summary: This bill would merely delete a single word (i.e., the second mention of “motor”) in § 46.2-816 of the Code of Virginia, to better conform the Code of Virginia to the Uniform Vehicle Code and to the traffic codes of other states.
§ 46.2-816. Following too closely. Currently, this Code section applies only to motor vehicles following other motor vehicles, trailers, or semi-trailers. The proposed modification would extend the same standard of legal protection to the drivers and passengers of all vehicles allowed to operate on the roadway, including bicycles, mopeds, and animal-drawn vehicles. The prohibition on following too closely would still only apply to drivers of motor vehicles, so the common (and typically safe) practice of a bicyclist drafting another bicyclist would not be affected.
3) Traffic Law Conformity: Virginia appears to be the only state in which the legal protection from being followed too closely (tailgating) applies exclusively to motor vehicles. For every other state that we’ve checked, the “following too closely” statute protects the drivers and passengers of all vehicles equally.

Moreover, in at least several states, including North Carolina, California, and Arizona, the “following too closely” statute is essentially identical to the language proposed in SB 264 and HB 785; i.e., only the drivers of motor vehicles are prohibited from following other vehicles too closely.

4) Motor Vehicles Are Typically More Dangerous Than Non-Motorized Vehicles: It is reasonable to only prohibit the drivers of motor vehicles from following other vehicles too closely because the greater power and weight of motor vehicles makes motor vehicles far more likely than all other vehicles to cause serious bodily injury and property damage.

5) Bicyclist Drafting Would Not Be Prohibited: In a practice known as drafting or pace lining, road bicycling enthusiasts often follow each other very closely by mutual consent. This bill would not outlaw bicyclist drafting because only the drivers of motor vehicles would be prohibited from following other vehicles too closely. Furthermore, experienced bicyclists who draft each other by mutual consent typically do so for very long distances without crashing, so they are not following “more closely than is reasonable or prudent.”

6) Relationship to Past Legislation: During the 2010 and 2011 legislative sessions, several bills were introduced (HB 1048 Kory and SB 566 Ticer in 2010; HB 1683 Toscano and HB 2194 Ebbin and SB 928 McDougle in 2011) in which this identical “following too closely” provision was combined with legislation to increase the specified minimum distance for safely passing a bicyclist from two feet to three feet. Since the three-foot minimum safe passing distance was opposed repeatedly in the House of Delegates, and a two-foot minimum passing distance still (theoretically) projects bicyclists who are sideswiped by a passing vehicle, this bill contains the “following too closely” provision without changing “the passing too closely” provision.  For the 2013 session, SB 1060 Reeves again combines "following too closely" with "three-foot passing".
7) Bicyclist Injuries and Fatalities: Year after year, Virginia averages more than 600 bicyclist injuries and 12 bicyclist fatalities annually in reported traffic crashes. In a substantial percentage of those fatalities and serious injuries, bicyclists are hit squarely from behind by a following motor vehicle. Besides helping to reduce the incidence of such crashes, passage of this bill would help ensure that a negligent motorist is at least charged with a traffic infraction which should expedite victim and estate compensation via an insurance claim and/or civil suit.
8) Motorist Education. If this change is adopted, DMV’s Virginia Drivers Manual, the state Drivers Test, Virginia drivers education curricula, and other traffic safety materials can acknowledge it, thus educating motorists to better consider non-motorized vehicles ahead of them on the roadway.
9) Bicycle-Friendly State Criterion: The League of American Bicyclists evaluates state bicycling statutes as a criterion for ranking the bicycle friendliness of the 50 states. Passage of this bill would help improve Virginia’s ranking in the future which would help attract more out-of-state visitors who enjoy bicycling to visit and spend money in Virginia
10) Virginia Beach Legislation Request: The City of Virginia Beach requested this legislation in its Requested Code of Virginia Changes for 2010 and 2011.

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