Monday, June 28, 2010

New Rules on the Road

For the Lord loves justice;
he will not forsake his faithful ones.
The righteous shall be kept safe forever,
but the children of the wicked
shall be cut off.
Psalm 37:28

Rhode Island has a new bicycle safety law. It requires motorists to pass cyclists “at a safe distance.” And it defines that as “sufficient to prevent contact with the person operating the bicycle if the person were to fall into the driver’s lane of traffic.”

Do I hear a “Hallelujah?” As a cyclist, I see this as very good news.

Lori DiBiasio was a major force behind the push for the new law. Her boyfriend, Frank Cabral, was killed by a motorist who swerved into the breakdown lane and ran him down while he was cycling in Charlestown in the summer of 2007. The woman driving the car was given three traffic tickets, totaling $225 in fines, but was not charged with “driving to endanger, death resulting,” because the Attorney General determined that there was too little evidence for a conviction. I would think that swerving into the break down lane and running over someone would be pretty close to the definition of “driving to endanger,” but apparently not.

The new law would not have prevented Frank Cabral’s death, and it does not call for real penalties for motorist who kill cyclists, but it is a start in raising awareness.

In Rhode Island we have many wonderful areas for cycling. There are bike lanes on large parts of major roads like Route 2 and Route 3. And there are many back roads with relatively few automobiles. As a cyclist, I avoid the traffic as much as possible. And I do my best to keep out of the way. But motorists often pass with little margin for error. And I have been cut off more times than I can count.

It is an odd phenomenon. Drivers who will wait patiently behind a front-end loader, or a tractor, or a delivery vehicle, are incensed if they are delayed for a nanosecond by a cyclist. They honk. Sometimes they yell. Occasionally they curse.

Think about it. And do the math. If a motorist follows a cyclist at fifteen miles per hour for a hundred feet, on a road where the car could have traveled at thirty miles per hour, the driver experiences a delay of a little over two seconds. Following for the length of a football field costs less than ten seconds.

One wonders about the source of the animosity. Part of it may be due to the fact that motorists don’t realize that cyclists have a right to the road. Part of it may be because drivers don’t understand that we can’t ride through pot-holes or broken pavement or broken glass. But still. Why are those seconds lost to a cyclist more upsetting than the time lost in the supermarket when someone blocks the aisle?

In any case, thanks to Rhode Island for trying to make it a little bit better.

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