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New law looks to protect cyclists, eliminate accidents

According to the Bicycle Coalition of Philadelphia, the city has the highest rate of bicycle commuters among the 10 most populated cities in the nation. With this information, one would expect that bicycle safety would be of the utmost importance. A new state law is looking to decrease the number of car accidents involving bicyclists by requiring drivers to keep a certain distance when passing those riding on bicycles.

The new law took effect across the state of Pennsylvania earlier this month. It allows drivers to pass over yellow lane lines in order to give bicyclists a clearance of at least four feet. On top of this, drivers who are turning left will be required to yield to bikes that are coming from the opposite direction.

In 2011, reports show that two cyclists lost their lives in Philadelphia after being involved in a motor vehicle accident. A dispatcher for a bicycle messenger service said that he hears that someone bumps into a car almost every day. If this is the case, it is likely that safety is a concern of those who choose to cycle.

Advocates for the new law argued that the law is requiring all drivers to behave as good drivers do already. According to a spokesman for the mayor's office of transportation, there are 20 states that have this law in place.

Legally, cyclists are treated as drivers of a motor vehicle. They must obey all traffic signals, according to a spokeswoman with AAA MidAtlantic. Under the new law, cyclists will be required to remain as close as practicable to the right-hand curb. In addition, they must use reasonable efforts to avoid disrupting the flow of traffic.

The communications coordinator for the Bicycle Coalition of Philadelphia stated that the new law would be especially important on narrow roads, where the confined space leaves some drivers and cyclists unsure of what to do. Despite the good intentions of the law, not all cyclists are confident that it will improve safety.

Some have said that the changes will not eliminate the problem of drivers who park in bike lanes or the chance that a cyclist may get his or her tires caught in a storm drain. And of course, drivers still need to learn to share the road and be vigilant for cyclists.

Source: Philly.com, "A new Pennsylvania law mandates that drivers give cyclists a wider berth," Liz Gormisky, Apr. 3, 2012

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Gregory R. Gifford
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