GREENFIELD — Bills proposing stiffer penalties for motorists who pass a bicycle too closely are getting backing from local law enforcement officers, but questions remain on how realistic such rules would be to enforce.
There are three bills filed in the General Assembly that would require drivers to leave a 3-foot clearance when passing bicyclists on roadways. If one of the bills is approved, a violation of the law would be a Class C infraction punishable by a $500 fine.
While each bill is being studied in a separate committee for the time being, the idea is gaining some local attention.
Greenfield Police Chief John Jester said he’s interested in hearing more about the idea. The topic of bicycle safety is one that is near and dear to the department, he added.
In 2010, Greenfield police Patrolman Will Phillips was struck and killed while cycling along U.S. 40 in Henry County. While it’s been four-and-a-half years since the accident, Jester said the hurt remains among officers who knew Phillips well.
Jester said any proposal that would mandate more space between motorists and cyclists is a good one.
“I think if it’s something that can be used to increase the safety of a bicyclist, then I’m all for it,” he said. “I think the premise of it, I really like the idea.”
Still, Jester questioned how realistic it would be to enforce the laws requiring the 3-foot clearance. Finding violators after a close call could be a challenge, he said.
Local lawmakers said they are following the discussion peripherally but are not on the committees in which the bills will be heard.
Sen. Mike Crider, R-Greenfield, said the idea reminds him of the “safe streets” legislation he wrote last year but did not make it to law. Crider proposed the Indiana Department of Transportation consider nontraditional traffic — bicycles and wheelchairs, for example — when designing new roadways. Crider said it’s important new infrastructure and bridges leave space for the safety of people who use nontraditional modes of transportation.
Crider’s legislation did not make it into law, he said, because INDOT assured him the department already takes bicycles and nontraditional vehicles into consideration when designing new streets. Still, Crider said the bills this year requiring a 3-foot buffer for bicyclists have merit.
“We’re seeing quite a few bicycles out in our area and a lot of times packs of them,” Crider said. “It should be one of those situations where folks are as courteous as possible.”
Rep. Bob Cherry, R-Greenfield said he hasn’t formed an opinion yet on the idea of stiffer penalties for motorists who don’t give a 3-foot buffer. He said he can see both sides of the argument: a reason to vote against such a proposal, Cherry said, is the fact that bicyclists don’t pay for the roads. Wheel tax and gasoline tax for the most part pay for the maintenance of state and local roadways.
“I think there needs to be more awareness, but at the same time, there are people telling me that bicycles don’t pay for our roads, (so) why should they have the privilege to be on the roads?”
Cherry said he’s waiting to see if one of the bills makes it to the full House before he comes to any conclusions on how he would vote. By then, he will have some time to learn more about both sides of the argument.
The deadline for bills to pass out of either chamber in the state Legislature is Feb. 25.
Greenfield police Capt. Brian Guinn said imposing stiffer penalties for those who don’t provide enough clearance for bicyclists has the potential to have a big impact on motorists.
“I think that’s great,” Guinn said. “I actually think that it’ll make people more accountable, and it’ll make them pay more attention when there are cyclists on the street.”
One of the many causes of accidents is driver distraction, Guinn pointed out. If the stakes were higher, drivers might be prompted to keep their eyes on the road, he said.
“I think being a good driver is paying attention all the time, and people don’t pay attention,” he said. “They’re on their phones and things like that. That being said, it’s a good bill.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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There are three bills being considered by the Indiana General Assembly that would make it a Class C infraction for motorists who don’t allow at least a 3-foot clearance when passing bicyclists. Here are the bill numbers, the authors, and the committees the bills are currently assigned to. To follow them, visit www.iga.in.gov
House Bill 1233, written by Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis; bill is in a House committee on roads and transportation.
Senate Bill 36, written by Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville; bill is in the Senate committee on civil law.
Senate Bill 250, written by Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis; bill is in the Senate committee on homeland security and transportation.