Cyclists happy about increase in safety zone

By Brad Fauber

The Virginia General Assembly voted to alter a law regarding the safety of road-bound cyclists, and area riders are applauding the decision.

As part of a handful of new laws voted into action by the state’s legislative body, motorists are now required to give cyclists a minimum of 3 feet — up from the previous distance of 2 feet — of clearance when passing them on the road. The law also applies to drivers passing an electric assistive mobility device, moped or animal-drawn vehicle. The new Virginia laws went into effect on July 1.

“I think everyone is pretty happy about it,” said Mike Perry, owner of Blue Ridge Bicycles and a member of the Winchester Wheelmen. “It places Virginia in line with a lot of other states.”

Perry said there was a general consensus among cyclists that the clearance distance should be increased and that his shop sent a letter to Delegate Mark Berg urging the 29th District’s representative to vote in favor of the new law. Perry was disappointed when Berg voted against adding an extra foot of breathing room for cyclists, he said, but the law still passed by an overwhelming majority.

Perry added that there “seems like there has been a change in opinion within the driving public” in regards to sharing the road with cyclists, a shift that could’ve been brought about by the increasing number of people who are participating in the activity.

Perry said there are still motorists who bring unnecessary risk to cyclists. He recalled an instance a year ago when a vehicle blew past a group of local cyclists while blaring its horn (the cyclists brought a successful lawsuit against the driver, Perry said), and yet another incident just last week when Perry was passed along Apple Pie Ridge Road in Winchester by a motorist who began yelling profanities at him.

Successfully bringing legal action against motorists who violate the 3-foot law or create undue risk to cyclists remains difficult, as riders must be able to provide a sufficient description of the vehicle and a license plate number. But Perry said the new law is still a step in the right direction to ensure that cyclists are safe on roadways.

“I think people tend to want to respect the law,” he said. “Hopefully that will be the case. There’s always going to be some bad apples but there’s not much you can do about that.”

Perry said he hopes safety measures are taken even further in the future, and he would like to see paved shoulders be added to roadways to give cyclists some more room to operate.

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or bfauber@nvdaily.com