Thanks to a newly implemented North Carolina law, cyclists and motorists may finally have the space to settle their differences.
The first of a series of new statewide traffic statutes from House Bill 959 — a state law passed in July to enhance bicycle safety — took effect Oct. 1.
A statute in the bill allows motorists to pass a bicycle on a solid center line if they give four feet of horizontal space between the two vehicles or completely enter the left lane of the road.
According to the law, the minimum fee for making an illegal pass, such as being within four feet of the cyclist, is $200 — and incidents that result in property damage or personal injury can cost up to $500.
HB 959 has been a work in progress ever since Gov. Pat McCrory signed House Bill 232 into law in June 2015. The earlier law set up a working group of government representatives, interest groups and experts to examine the state's bicycle laws.
After the group found several policies to be outdated, they made suggestions to state lawmakers. The General Assembly drafted new legislation and passed HB 959 on July 11.
“This is really something that’s not just going to address the competitive rider on a bicycle, but the utility user — someone who is going to use a bicycle to get to and from work — and the recreation rider," said Ed Johnson, acting director for the North Carolina Department of Transportation's Division of Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation. "It’s a three-fold approach."
Joshua Mecimore, the Chapel Hill Police Department spokesperson, said the highway passing provision will likely impact other areas of the state more than it will Chapel Hill.
“We probably have fairly few areas in Chapel Hill where those types of passing happen,” Mecimore said. “Rural areas are probably more likely the target of that type of statute.”
One of the interest groups that supported the new law is BikeWalk NC, a statewide advocacy organization that promotes non-motorized transportation choices — specifically biking and walking.
Lisa Riegel, the organization’s executive director, said the Oct. 1 provisions improves road conditions for bikers by making cyclist interaction easier for motorists.
“Most bicyclists are also motorists,” she said. “Bicyclists want to be passed, and cars want to be able to move down the road, so this is a win-win for both sides.”
Riegel said the law will not only make roads safer but will also make on-road relations more tolerable.
“We find that it is safer for everyone when there is a culture of sharing the road,” she said. “This passing law is a step in that direction.”
Another section that became effective Oct. 1 stipulates that cyclists signal left turns by extending their left arms horizontal with a pointed forefinger, and right turns by having the upper arm horizontal with a forearm and hand pointed upward.
Johnson said more bicycle-related statutes from the law are scheduled to take effect Dec. 1, including one that makes provisions for night riding — cyclists will be required to have a lamp on the front of their vehicle and either have a lamp on the back as well or choose to wear reflective clothing.
“We’re hoping that these also aid in the reduction of severe injuries and fatalities for bicyclists,” Johnson said.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.