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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Pennsylvania passes new bicycle “Safe Passing” Law [Pecori & Pecori]


On February 4, 2012 Governor Tom Corbett signed HB-170.  The new law amends the Vehicle Code in several ways to define how bicyclist must ride on the roads as well as how drivers of motor vehicles must drive when they encounter a bicycle. This article will review the new amendments and offer my interpretations.
Title 75 (Vehicles) Section 3301(c)(1) is amended to read:
Pedalcycles: Upon all roadways, any pedalcycle operating in accordance with Chapter 35 proceeding at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic, or as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway, except when overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction or when preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into an alley, private road or driveway.
            (2) This section does not apply to:
(i) A pedalcycle using any portion of an available roadway due to unsafe surface conditions.
(ii) A pedalcycle using a roadway that has a width of not more then one lane of traffic in each direction.
Bicycles are usually, but not always, ridden at less than the normal speed of traffic.  In that case, they must be ridden in the right lane or as close as practicable to the right of the road unless passing another vehicle or making a left turn.  This does not apply, however, if the right hand lane or the right side of the road is deemed “unsafe” by the biker or if the road has no berm.  In that case, the biker is able to “take the lane” to remain safe. As most bikers in and around Pittsburgh know, the far right side of the road and/or the berms are not always in the best of shape, especially after a winter of salt and cinder spreading. Non-bikers need to understand that gravel and/or loose pavement of any kind are the enemy of bikers.  The contact with the road of a typical road bike tire is approximately 1x2”. It is very easy for these tires to lose traction on bad surfaces sending the rider to the ground. If a biker is occupying the whole lane, there is usually a good reason for it.
Section 3303(a)(3) is amended to read:
The driver of a motor vehicle overtaking a pedalcycle proceeding in the same direction shall pass to the left of the pedalcycle within not less than four feet at a careful and prudent reduced speed
 This is the biggest change to vehicle code and the namesake of the new law. When a motor vehicle approaches a biker and they intend to pass, they must do so at reasonable speed and provide the biker a four-foot cushion.  While this may seem as simply common sense when encountering a bicycle on the road, most bikers will tell you that they are rarely given such a courtesy.   Additionally, Section 3307 related to no-passing zones is amended to allow the passing vehicle to cross a double yellow line if necessary to comply with the four feet gap requirement.  Drivers need to realize that the onus is on them to make the safe pass.  You must be able to give the biker a minimum of four feet and you must only cross the centerline when it is safe for you to do so. I have been passed numerous times by otherwise attentive drivers who gave me a wide berth only to almost cause a collision in the on-coming lane.
Section 3331(e) Required position and method of turning is amended to read:
Interference with pedalcycle.—No turn by a driver of a motor vehicle shall interfere with a pedalcycle proceeding straight while operating in accordance with Chapter 35 (relating to special vehicles and pedestrians)
This section makes illegal what I refer to as “hook” turns.  The right hook is when a car speeds up to pass a biker only to make a quick right turn in front of them.  The left hook is when a driver makes a left in front of an oncoming biker.  Of all of the victims of car vs. bike accident that I have represented, “hook” turns make up the bulk of them.  These dangerous maneuvers regularly result in car-to-bike contact as well as car-to-rider and rider-to-pavement contact. To borrow a slogan from motorcyclists, “look twice, we are everywhere”.
Section 3364(b)(2) Minimum Speed Regulation is amended to read:
A pedalcycle may be operated at a safe and reasonable speed appropriate for the pedalcycle.  A pedalcycle operator shall use reasonable efforts so as not to impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic.
Again, if bikers are able to keep up with traffic they are welcome to use the whole lane.  If they are travelling at less then the speed of traffic then they have to do their best to not impede motor vehicle traffic. In my experience as a road biker, slowing traffic is the most common complaint that I hear from drivers of cars.  Bikers should be courteous.  When going slower than traffic, use the whole lane only when necessary.
So, what does it all mean? In a word: Coexist.

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