Lawmakers Work to Improve Bicycle Safety with Three-feet Rule

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - Drivers running bicyclists off the road, or even worse, hitting them from behind.  Several recent incidents in our area illustrate the growing problem bike riders face out on the road, which has now gotten the attention of state lawmakers.

“Every now and then I’ve got someone who will come by and just kind of buzz you cuz they don't like you being on the road,” said Steve Swann, owner of Madison Cycles, a local hot spot for north Alabama’s bicyclist community

For Swann, cycling is a way of life. But the long-time rider says life on the road has become quite harrowing over the last few years.

“People are distracted, they're in a hurry, they don't realize that bicyclists are supposed to be in the roadway,” said Swann.

Swann says it's not uncommon for some customers to bring in tales of close calls on the roadway, a trend that's turned tragic more than once recently. Over the last few years, several area riders have been struck from behind by speeding cars and trucks, including one man who nearly lost his life in a hit-and-run less than a mile from the store.

Now, state lawmakers are addressing the issue with a bill that clearly defines how close is too close when trying to pass a bicycle.

“I'd like to have more than 6 inches when people pass me, so 3 feet is nice… if the law said you had to be 3 feet away, they would hopefully understand they're not supposed to be coming so close to me,” said Swann.

The "3 feet rule" is the centerpiece of Senate Bill 2, which will be addressed by lawmakers when they return to Montgomery in February. Penalties are not spelled out, but Swann believes it will give law enforcement the clear definition it needs to prosecute problem motorists.

“The best thing it can do is make people aware that cyclists are supposed to use the road, and that it's okay for them to be there.  That’s a person using that bicycle, not just some object that is getting in your way.  It’s a person,” said Swann.

State senator Gerald Allen of Tuscaloosa is sponsoring the bike safety legislation.

And it's important to remember that bicyclists have the exact same road rights that motorists have.  So, you have to treat the bicycle in front of you just like you would another car.