I’ve seen a vehicle nearly miss crashing directly into a cyclist. And the cyclist was someone I know. He’s a father, a husband, a friend, and a neighbor.
When I share the road with a bicyclist, I flank him with a wide berth between my vehicle and his bike. WIDE. I’m so nervous — the actions of my heavy piece of machinery and the unpredictability of the cyclist on a pot-hole pitted road are factors that I don’t want to leave to chance. God forbid. I’m not religious but seriously, the very thought makes me ill. I’d like to think that most motorists are careful. But I’m not a cyclist.
“All cyclists have had a close call, most are accidental, sometimes drivers are really not aware of how close they come. Sometimes they think they can fit through there. But coming that close can be unnerving, especially when the airflow from some of the faster moving larger vehicles can push you around a bit,” stated Michael Gray, owner of Sourland Cycles in Hopewell Boro.
Currently, New Jersey is the only state on the east coast without a minimum legal standard for the distance a motor vehicle must keep from a bicycle. But, yesterday, June 16, a bill passed in the Assembly that would require the driver of a vehicle overtaking a bicycle traveling in the same direction to leave a reasonable and safe distance between the vehicle and the bicycle of “not less than four feet” until the vehicle has safely passed the bicycle. The bill also requires a 4-foot distance between motor vehicles and pedestrians.
While cyclists celebrate this as much needed protection, motorists are concerned about the ability to accommodate such a wide buffer zone on roads. “The problem becomes that without bike lanes on some rural roads, it will push cars to the other lane of oncoming traffic. [The bill] should have a ‘when feasible clause,'” said Tracy Noble, New Jersey Public Affairs Manager of AAA Mid-Atlantic.
The Star Ledger this January reported that 2013 marked an all-time low for New Jersey traffic deaths — 9% fewer than the prior year. But the figures show that fatalities for bicyclists and pedestrians remain the same, totaling nearly 27% of all traffic deaths.
Even when a vehicle strikes a cyclist, “the fee structure for the fines is absurdly low. If a driver hits a cyclist, drivers are often just charged with reckless driving,” said Jed Kornbluh, Hopewell Boro resident, avid cyclist and Vice President of Sommerville Sports based out of Brooklyn, NY.
Violation of the four-foot buffer would yield a fine of up to $500 when that violation is the “proximate cause of a collision or accident with a bicyclist” without consideration to the level of injury to the bicyclist or damage to the bicycle. (ASSEMBLY, No. 2090)
“This law will add a lot of awareness for all drivers that you need to give cyclists and pedestrians a safe passing distance. We are not trying to be obstructive, or ride in the middle of the road. In fact, often just a moment of touching the brakes is enough to create the space to safely pass,” added Gray.
The bill has passed in the Assembly and still requires a vote from the Senate and approval of the Governor to become law.