New law starts today: Drivers must move over to pass bicyclists

Today is when motorists must start giving bicyclists a 3-foot “safe distance” when passing on the road.

But education will be a key to ensure the driving public knows the law is on the books, and if ticketed they'd be cited for a minor misdemeanor, said Ken Mercurio, of Monroe.

“How long will people realize they can’t text when they drive?” said Mercurio, a bicyclist who’s ridden some 19,000 miles over the past two years around Southwest Ohio.

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House Bill 154, passed by lawmakers in this past legislative session, requires motorists to give 3 feet when passing a bicyclist. This would make Ohio the 30th state to have a law that requires motorists give a specific distance when passing a bicyclist, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. And five of Ohio's top six cities already have ordinances specifying a 3-foot passing allowance.

The law states that when a bicyclist is in the roadway or riding on the yellow line along the shoulder, motorists will need to cross the center lane to pass a bicyclist safely. And if the traffic is not clear, or a blind hill is approaching, the motorist would be legally required to slow down behind the bicyclist until it’s safe to pass.

“We’re just hoping the publicity will help make the public aware,” said Mercurio, who said motorists around this area already generally afford room for bicyclists when passing.

The more space is always for the better, said Jacob Stallings, owner of three Trek Bicycle Stores in the tri-state, including in West Chester Twp. While education is key, he said it has not always been enforced in other states.

“I’ve ridden in a lot of states where the 3-foot rule already exists, and either, one, people don’t know about or, two, it’s not enforced,” he said. “Bicyclists have always been out on the road and some people just don’t understand that they are allowed.”

The allowance is necessary because of the instability of a bicycle, said Stallings.

“Bicycles can get blown around,” he said. “The wind off the car can actually blow you off, or drivers don’t realize their mirrors are sticking out as far as they are.”

An average of nearly 16 people a year in Ohio died from being involved in a fatal crash from 2005 to 2014, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The average is more than 700 people a year nationwide.

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