Bill targets 'buzzing' of cyclists

A proposed Georgia law would require motorists to give cyclists three feet of space when passing.

House Bill 180 states that motorists should pass within a "safe distance," which it defines as three feet. If it becomes law, it would directly address the issue of motorists "buzzing" bicycles and give law enforcement a specific yardstick for enforcement, according to nonprofit advocacy group Georgia Bikes.

A study by the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center found just 1.2 percent of bicycle crashes involved motorists passing too closely but that 22 percent of those crashes resulted in serious injury or death.

Cyclists in the Augusta area have complained about some motorists deliberately passing too closely.

In October, cyclist Matthew Burke was struck on Beech Island Avenue. He died of his injuries in February. Investigators have charged the driver, Daniel Johnson, with reckless homicide.

If H.B. 180 becomes law, Georgia would join 16 other states that have an established passing distance. South Carolina's Bicycle Safety Act of 2008 mandates that motorists should "at all times maintain a safe operating distance."

The measure is one of three in the General Assembly that aim to make cycling safer in the Peach State.

House Bill 101 clarifies and amends the existing traffic laws concerning bicycles on Georgia roads. It defines bicycle lanes and ensures that they are installed according to minimum national guidelines. It also requires motorists to yield to bicycle lane traffic and not block or impede the lane.

"We're big fans of (the bill)," said Brent Buice, the executive director of Georgia Bikes.

Another measure, House Bill 71, would allow residents to petition their local governments to allow them to ride bicycles on sidewalks.

Under current law, only children younger than 12 can ride on sidewalks. State Rep. Doug McKillip, R-Athens, said he was asked by a 75-year-old man in Athens for the right to ride on the sidewalk and out of traffic.

"He made a good practical point," McKillip said.

McKillip also sponsored H.B. 101, which he said came at the request of cycling advocates and groups such as Georgia Bikes.

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