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Pandemic prompts cycling surge -- and calls for new protections

Jenni Bergal, Stateline.org on

Published in News & Features

Alaska, Idaho, Iowa, Indiana, New Mexico and Texas are the only states without laws that specifically address passing a bicyclist, according to NCSL.

Bicycling advocates argue every state should have one.

“The biking community is very supportive of these laws,” McLeod said. “Even if there’s not going to be a lot of proactive enforcement, it educates drivers and provides a sense of justice for victims and helps in civil lawsuits.”

Safe passing laws are similar to “move over” statutes that every state has adopted. They require drivers to slow down or switch lanes when they pass emergency vehicles, and in many states the laws also cover tow trucks and transportation maintenance vehicles.

Bicyclist fatalities have been rising in the past decade, as have those involving pedestrians. Experts blame aggressive drivers, more speeding and an increase in distracted driving, largely caused by cellphone use. About eight people in the United States are killed every day in crashes that involve a distracted driver, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2019, the latest year for which data is available, 846 bicyclists were killed and 49,000 were injured in traffic crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which collects data from police reports. The fatalities in urban areas rose by 49% since 2010.

 

The CDC estimated that more than 143,000 bicyclists visited emergency rooms in 2019 because of a vehicle-related incident.

These crashes continue to draw headlines. In July, New York Jets assistant coach Greg Knapp, an avid bicyclist, died from injuries he suffered after he was struck by a car while biking in San Ramon, California.

The same month, two bicyclists were killed in vehicle crashes within 17 hours near Richmond, Virginia. That state strengthened its bicycle safety law earlier this year.

“We see a lot of jurisdictions frame safety campaigns around safe passing laws, which is great,” McLeod said. “It focuses on the driver’s behavior.”

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