On January 1, 2020 a new law went into effect in Washington. Where previously automobile drivers had to simply pass “at a safe distance”, the new law requires that automobiles give bicycles at least 3 feet of space when passing them on a road.  The highlights of the law include:

  • If there are two or more lanes going the same direction, drivers must move out of the right lane when passing a cyclist;
  • If there is only one lane in each direction, drivers must slow down and give the cyclist at least 3 feet of space when passing;
  • If there is only one lane in each direction, but not enough room to pass, the driver must slow down and move into the oncoming lane to pass the cyclist when it is safe to do so.

In Oregon, the law states that the driver of the automobile must be going a speed less than 35 mph, and a “safe distance” refers to a distance that is sufficient to prevent contact with the cyclist if they were to fall into the driver’s lane of traffic.

The Need for Change

Bicycles are being used not only for exercise and pleasure activities, but increasingly for commutes to work. By law, bicycles on the road share the same rights and responsibilities as a motor vehicle. However, when a collision happens between an automobile and a bicycle, it’s the cyclist who will bear the brunt of the injuries, due to the nature of the bicycle and lack of protection it gives. While a properly fitting helmet can help protect the head and brain from traumatic brain injuries and other head injuries, there is not much to protect the rest of the body – hence a renewed focus on enacting laws that can help protect a cyclist and make the road a safer place to ride.

Know the Risks

There are two types of crashes on a bicycle: the most common is a fall, but the most serious is a motor vehicle crash. Because knowledge leads to prevention, it is important to understand some of the risk factors that make bicycles more dangerous to the rider:

  • Bicyclist deaths occurred most often between 6 pm and 9 pm – regardless of the time of the year;
  • The average age of a cyclist involved in a fatal crash in 2017 was 47 years of age; individuals in the 50-54 years old group had the highest rate of fatalities overall;
  • Children under the age of 15 made up 7 percent of all cyclists killed;
  • Bicyclist death occurred more often in urban areas (75%) than in rural areas (25%);
  • Male deaths in bicycle crashes were 8 times higher than for female deaths;
  • Alcohol was involved in 37% of fatal bicycle crashes in 2017.

It’s Not a Car – But the Rules Are the Same

All states require bicyclists to follow the same rules of the road as cars. This includes drinking and cycling (see alcohol-related statistic above) as well as texting while cycling. By driving predictably while on a bike, motor vehicle drivers can get a sense for what you will do and will be more likely to react to avoid a crash.

While the laws are enacted to help protect bicyclists on the road, unfortunately there are still crashes that happen between automobiles and bicycles. If you have been injured in a motor vehicle crash while you were riding your bicycle, you may have legal rights to receive compensation for your injuries. An experienced personal injury attorney can help explain your rights in a free consultation