By Libby Cluett
Palo Pinto County roadways – frequently used by bicyclists, motorcycle riders and even horseback riders – could become safer if Gov. Rick Perry signs Senate Bill 488 into law.
What is known as the “Safe Passing Law” would require drivers of passenger and commercial vehicles throughout the state to give vulnerable road users – including construction workers, cyclists, motorcycles, scooters, pedestrians, runners, people whose vehicles have broken down, people riding horses and unprotected farm equipment – room when passing on any roadway.
The bill solidly passed the State Senate with a vote of 25-5 and overwhelmingly passed the Texas House with a vote of 140-5. It essentially requires motor vehicle drivers to pass safely, share the road and “exercise due care to avoid colliding with any vulnerable road user on a roadway or in an intersection.”
If SB 488 becomes law, drivers of vehicles would be required to:
• Vacate the lane in which the vulnerable road user is located if the highway has two or more marked lanes running in the same direction or pass at a safe distance – at least 3 feet from the vulnerable road user if the operator’s vehicle is a passenger car or light truck or 6 feet if the operator’s vehicle is a truck other than a light truck or a commercial vehicle.
• On left-hand turns, yield the right-of-way to a vulnerable
road user who is approaching from the opposite direction and is in the intersection or in such proximity to the intersection as to be an immediate hazard.
• Before a right-hand turn, not overtake a vulnerable road user traveling in the same direction and subsequently make a right-hand turn in front of the vulnerable road user unless the operator is safely clear of the vulnerable road user, taking into account the speed at which the vulnerable road user is traveling and the braking requirements of the vehicle making the right-hand turn.
“It enforces a previous law and adds teeth. There are specific charges to violators,” said area cyclist, runner and county employee Iris Stagner.
“Nine times out of 10 cars move over and give me the whole lane or plenty of space,” said Stagner. She added that on her ride Sunday morning, “I counted three cars that crossed the line, over the shoulder. So they obviously didn’t give me three feet. Some cyclists aren’t courteous and ride three-wide, but we’re not all like that. Don’t take it out on everybody.”
SB 488 also prohibits drivers from intimidating, harassing or threatening cyclists, pedestrians and the like with a motor vehicle.
The Safe Passing Law would provide consequences. Violations, especially those resulting in property damage or injury, could mean a $500-$2000 fine and charges up to a Class B misdemeanor. However, the law provides protection for drivers if a vulnerable road user violates traffic laws.
“It’s going to hold us – cyclists and everybody – to the fire. We have to abide by traffic laws the same as cars do and if we’re not, they can enforce this law,” Stagner said.
“I’m fortunate to be able to ride in a county where we don’t have as much traffic as they do over in the Metroplex,” said Stagner.
Though its roads are not as busy, Palo Pinto County had its share of statistics in 2008. According to www.biketexas.org, there were a total of six vulnerable road user fatalities within the county – two were pedestrians, one was a motorcyclist and three were in a work zone. The organization also reported seven incapacitating injuries in the county – one cyclist, three motorcyclists and three in a work zone.
Within Senate District 30, there were a total of 62 deaths and 336 incapacitating injuries to vulnerable road users in 2008.
According to its Web site, the “Ride of Silence” – an annual remembrance of cyclists injured and killed while riding – started in Dallas in May of 2003 soon after a veteran cyclist was clipped by the mirror of a passing school bus earlier that month. The following May, Phyllis Hassan was hit by the right-side, rear-view mirror of a passing Ford Bronco during a country ride near Granbury. She died the next day – Mother’s Day.
Side-swipes effect other vulnerable road users, resulting in deaths to construction workers and those on their feet or horses, as well as on two wheels. Mineral Wells resident Sharon Southern lost her only son, Cody Green, after he was killed by an 18-wheeler in October 2006, while working on the Marsha Sharp Freeway in Lubbock.
Stagner said the Safe Passing Law is “going to benefit everybody – runners, cyclists, motorcycle riders. It’s going to benefit people in cars, too. Would you want to have to live with striking a cyclist, runner or somebody?” she added. “All [drivers] have to do is move over a few feet and if there’s a car coming, slow down. It’s a split second out of your life and a split second [that could be] gone.”
She said it also means, “We’re just all going to have to pay more attention. We’re not out there to slow [drivers] down or impede traffic; we’re out there doing something we love to do and we want to share the road.”
As of Monday afternoon, the bill was waiting to be signed into law. Perry has until June 21 to sign or veto pending bills.
By Libby Cluett
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