Riders hail new rules in Georgia

Law applies to rights on road
Bicycling enthusiasts are hoping a new Georgia law will provide safer riding on the roads, but they are also aware that a similar law passed in South Carolina has not changed driver behavior.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed a watershed bicycle safety law this month that proponents are hailing as "state of the art."

Similar praise was given three years ago when South Carolina enacted its bicycle safety law, which offers legal recourse for cyclists who are harassed, "buzzed" by motorists or verbally abused.

Yet cyclists in the Beech Island area still report issues.

An Aiken County Sheriff's Office report shows that on April 13 a cyclist in a group of 20 other riders called authorities after a pickup truck came close to the rear of the line. Words were exchanged between the cyclist and the driver, but no arrest was made.

For Martin "Gator" Cochran, the cyclist who filed the report, it was a reminder that laws alone aren't enough for protection.

So what can be done at the outset with this new Georgia law to minimize issues three years down the road?

Cyclists and activists point to education.

Attorney Peter Wilborn, a safe cycling advocate, uses stop signs as an example. Enforcement is an important aspect of a law, but people don't brake at stop signs because there is an officer at every intersection.

They know from experience and education that coming to a complete stop is the safest way to drive, said Wilborn. He adds that there will always be lawbreakers, regardless of enforcement or education.

A key element to the new Georgia law is that it requires motorists to give cyclists 3 feet of space when passing. The South Carolina law gives the broader "safe passing distance."

The legal merits and drawbacks of a specific distance have been debated, but Wilborn prefers to see the positive aspects in just having some protection for cyclists.

Overall, Wilborn said the Georgia law is actually better than South Carolina's.

"Somebody spent a great deal of time doing it well," he said.

Cochran estimates he's ridden close to 80,000 miles as a long distance cyclist and he's seen the different ways that states support or ignore cyclists.

He noticed last weekend, for instance, during a 24-hour ride through North Carolina that there were signs that declared the road "bike route 4."

That gives motorists notice that cyclists are using the road and reinforces their legal right to be there, Cochran said.

"The law in South Carolina is definitely a positive thing," Cochran said. "But we need a large education campaign."

Cochran gives the public service announcements about drinking and driving as an example. The campaign should focus as much on cyclists learning safe road habits as motorists learning to keep their distance, he said.

Cochran points to a recent editorial in the North Augusta Star as an example of the misconceptions that need clarifying.

The column by Mary Cashon Jones relates how she had to stop for a cyclist on the Greeneway crossing Pisgah Road.

The cyclist was "crossing the road slowly, not looking out for cars," the piece states.

Jones sees that incident as proof that cyclists should be licensed and regulated and pay the same taxes as motorists.

"If I have to pay this amount to drive my car on the roads, then why should I have to dodge or stop for bicycles who pay nothing for these roads?" Jones writes.

On Friday, Jones said her column received a lot of support from the community.

Cochran offers the rebuttal that cyclists have a legal right to use the road, regardless of whether they pay taxes.

But the reality is that most recreational cyclists have paid to register their cars and pay property taxes too, Cochran said.

"We just need to work through our differences and find common ground," Cochran said.

Learn more

Learn about bicycle safety at safestreetssavelives.org