When a cyclist is on the highway are they any more vulnerable than any other person on the highway?
Before we can answer that question we first need to explain what a highway is. The definition for Highway is listed in KRS 189.010 (3).
“Highway” means any public road, street, avenue, alley or boulevard, bridge, viaduct, or trestle and the approaches to them and includes private residential roads and parking lots…
We have a highway and within the highway is a Roadway or synonymously a Lane; and KRS has a specific statute for those lanes. KRS 189.340 (6) (a)
A vehicle shall be driven as nearly as may be practical entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from that lane until the driver has first ascertained that the movement can be made with safety;
If everyone is following the law and more importantly the spirit of the law; the spirit of the law being safety, then there isn’t any harm to any road user and no need for extra measures of protection.
Unfortunately not everyone feels duty bound to operate their vehicle with due care.
A lot of people are under the misguided notion that speed grants extra privileges.
KRS 189.390 is very clear that there isn’t a right of speed on Kentucky’s Highways.
An operator of a vehicle upon a highway shall not drive at a greater speed than is reasonable and prudent, having regard for the traffic and for the condition and use of the highway.
Traffic: The movement of vehicles or people along roads, or the movement of aircraft, trains, or ships along a route. Via: Cambridge Dictionaries Online.
What is the purpose of a safe passing law?
The purpose of a safe passing law is to give the police a statute with which to cite the offending person. It also provides lawyers and insurance adjusters something tangible when trying to ascertain fault and how much liability goes where and with whom.
Did this explanation bring up a mental image of buzzards picking over roadkill?
That would be because this law is what I term an “after the fact law”. There isn’t any visual guideline to show a person operating a motor vehicle just how much space is three feet. Often times that three feet puts the cyclist’s head right under the motorists tire. Should the cyclist fall over, their head would be squashed. Bicycle helmet included.
Have you ever heard of Dr. McCarroll?
[Dr] June McCarroll, a physician in Indio, California who started experimenting with painting lines on roads in 1917 after she was run off a highway by a truck driver. In November 1924, after years of lobbying by Dr. McCarroll and her allies, California officially adopted a policy of painting lines on its highways. A portion of Interstate 10 near Indio has been named the Dr. June McCarroll Memorial Freeway in her honor.
Painted lines give drivers a visual marker with which to judge distance.
It is safer to have a stated change lanes to pass law than it is to have a minimum three feet law. In Kentucky there are drivers who will fail to understand KRS 189 and give only the minimum passing distance. And in a state which educates teen drivers that it is OK to driver 10 mph over the posted speed limit; see Transportation.ky.gov/Drivers Licensing Documents Page 5. giving a cyclist the minimum distance when passing at 10 mph over posted speed limit; is a recipe for disaster.
Our car culture has created a social, cultural, and legal norm for people to kill, without penalty, on our public right of ways. It’s the “Oops I didn’t see them syndrome” and it is bullshit.
The driver of an automobile is bound to anticipate the presence of pedestrians upon the streets of a city or upon rural highways, as well as to exercise reasonable care that he does not injure them after he is aware of their presence. O’Dowd v. Newnham 13 Ga. App. 220, 80 S. E. 36.
A safe passing law is a band aid on a gaping wound.
A safe passing law is an after the fact law.
Do we need it?
We need it because it is a start. Not the best example of a start, especially when other states are making better statutes from which we can draw from. But it is a start none the less.
We also need it because the infrastructure here is substandard.
Misguided advocates are pushing for bike lanes (think paint) on highways with 45 to 55 mph.
Gallons of paint will never replace the infrastructure we so desperately need. Nor will it replace urban designed spaces which give precedence to walking, public transport, and biking.
We are terribly entangled in car culture which is choking the very humanity out of us.
If you are wondering what we can do to make it better.
We can form a statewide advocacy group and lobby for better laws. Laws which require city planners to take into consideration all users of our public highways. Laws which specify dense urban planning as opposed to sprawling communities which are harder and more expensive to maintain. We need laws which require a one year mandatory probationary period for new drivers, mandatory retesting every four years, and an education program enacted in our schools. Driving school should have a required bike law and safety instructional forum.
We need a multi pronged approach to cycling and more importantly pedestrian safety.
Tiered licensing which ensures that teenagers are truly ready for a license to operate a vehicle. An exception for farmers children to operate farm equipment in the natural course of their duties. But not to operate non farm equipment on public highways.
Lower speed limits as a means of changing the culture of speed along with enforcement of speeding during times where operating a vehicle at speeds under the limit but higher than is safe for road conditions. Mandatory slow down laws when pedestrians or cyclists are present. Policies which make separate infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians a mandatory part of all construction. Policies which ensure that for every 100 people there are adequate shopping districts within walking distance. Wider and better sidewalks. Enforcement of stop lines. Elimination of right on red. Timing streetlights to favor pedestrians and cyclists. Narrower streets and wider bike lanes and sidewalks.
Vulnerable road user laws which enact stiff penalties for harming any road user with their vehicle.
When we pass another vehicle we are required to pass in the lane adjacent to the vehicle being passed. We are required by law to pass left of the center of the highway. To pass with enough clearance to avoid a collision or to cause the vehicle from being passed to have to slam on their brakes to avoid a collision. These are the laws. These are for safety. These ensure the courteous use of public roads and when those laws are broken the best possible outcome would be a citation. The worst would be a collision and people hurt. All too often these brazen flaunting of laws are unobserved and the confidence of the abuser is increased. The police can’t be everywhere but we can create legislation enacting a police task force which takes these complaints and investigates them and if found guilty penalties applied.
Remember the opening question?
“When a cyclist is on the highway are they any more vulnerable than any other person on the highway?”
The answer which you may have realized by now is No. We are all vulnerable on the highway. While there is a hierarchy of how much vulnerability each user has, we are each of us putting our lives at risk by walking out our front door.
We need more, we need better, and we need it now!
So let’s start with three feet and then demand more.
I’d rather have miles of this…
Than miles of this…