Bicycle 3-foot passing law now in effect

Becky Vargo • Sep 29, 2018 at 7:00 AM

Motorists overtaking bicycles on Michigan roads are now required to give that cyclist 3 feet of breathing room, even if it means “safely” going across the center line. 

Public Acts 279 and 280, approved by the state Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder earlier this year, also set any violation as a civil infraction, resulting in a fine and three points on your driver’s license. 

The new law went into effect Thursday.

Also part of this bicycle safety package, Public Act 277 of 2018 will require Michigan’s driver’s education curriculum to include no less than one hour of classroom time devoted to laws pertaining to bicyclists, motorcyclists and other vulnerable roadway users, including pedestrians. This law will go into effect next spring.

Michigan was one of only 11 states without a safe passing law, said John Lindenmayer, executive director of the Michigan League of Bicyclists.

“We were really lagging behind other states on this issue,” he said. “Michigan saw a significant spike in bicycle fatalities in 2016, with 38 cyclists killed on Michigan roads. This was nearly double over the previous year.”

According to the state Office of Highway Safety Planning, 21 bicyclists were killed in crashes on Michigan roadways in 2017 and another 1,356 were injured.

“We are encouraged that bicycle fatalities are down and optimistic that this new safe passing will help continue that trend, since a significant portion of crashes and fatalities involve a motorist striking a cyclist from behind,” Lindenmayer said. “Bicyclists on the roads are not just bicyclists, they are moms and dads, brothers and sisters, best friends, neighbors, and co-workers. They are people in our communities trying to safely navigate our streets. They also are vulnerable roadway users. These new laws recognize this and help to create a safer environment for all roadway users in Michigan.” 

Matt Meyer, manager of Rock ‘n’ Road in Grand Haven, said the new laws are “a good move to help protect cyclists in Michigan.” While some local municipalities, such as Norton Shores, have local ordinances setting safety distances, these laws will now protect every cyclist, he added.

“We’re hoping that people will pay attention to it and be aware,” Meyer said. “Hopefully, this will help protect people from those unwilling to share the road in a safe manner.”

Meyer said the big concern for everyone is how the law is enforced.

Sgt. Mike VandenBosch of the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office said the law is new to officers and they, too, will have to adapt. 

When a deputy observes a violation, that officer can immediately issue a ticket, VandenBosch said. 

However, if a cyclist reports the violation, police will do an investigation and submit the report to the county prosecutor for permission to issue a ticket, he explained. Until now, this type of investigation was most frequently done when bus drivers reported motorists ignoring their flashing red lights.

VandenBosch said he expects the number of complaints to rise.

Sgt. Josh Tomes of the Grand Haven Department of Public Safety said officers will initially concentrate on public awareness.

“If it’s something that’s witnessed and doesn’t appear intentional, we’ll make them aware of the new law,” he explained. “If it’s more aggressive or intentional, we’ll take action.”

Tomes said police officers want to make sure that bicyclists and motorists can exist on the same road in a safe manner.

In the meantime, cyclists, as well as pedestrians, can do a lot to make themselves more visible. For example, they can wear bright-colored and reflective clothing, VandenBosch said. He noted that bicycles are required by law to have front and rear illuminated lights if operating after dark, not just reflectors.

Bicyclists are required to ride with traffic, while pedestrians in roadways are required to walk facing traffic, VandenBosch said.

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