Jim Bagwell: New law on passing bikes crosses line
For the Nevada Appeal
Here we go – the bicycle feud is starting. I predicted this when I saw that Senate Bill 328 had passed. I had heard grumblings but paid little attention until recently. One might ask, what is this bill?
Here it is: NRS 484B.270 requires motorists traveling in the same direction as a bicyclist to move to the left lane if possible or leave at least 3 feet between any part of the vehicle and any part of the bicycle or rider and not move back to the right until the vehicle is safely clear of the bicycle or rider.
This sounds pretty simple and common sense. It was, until I read an article in which Trooper Chuck Allen, official spokesman for the Nevada Highway Patrol, stated the average car is 6 feet wide. He went on to say that on roads with double yellow lines – and I assume that means also a single yellow on the side traveled by the vehicle – a driver should not pass a bicycle without yielding the 3 feet or until the yellow line ends or it is safe to do so.
Being an old traffic cop, I had to check the situation for myself. I measured my vehicle and went to where I hoped to locate a bicyclist going my way. I found one on 5th Street going westbound. There is a bike lane present, but the about 15 year old was not entirely navigating in the approximately 3-foot-wide bike lane. He was taking about an occasional 2 feet, using his handlebar as a guide, from the vehicle travel lane. As most bicyclists do, he was weaving near the line marking the bike lane, causing some concern on my part if I were to attempt to pass and stay in my lane. My vehicle is a pickup that measures 8 feet, 10 inches from mirror tip to mirror tip. The left turn lane is delineated by a solid yellow line in my lane. My response to this was to slow to less than 10 mph to follow the bike until I could find a safe place to pass that did not necessitate my crossing the yellow line. I saw the futility of obeying the law when a car passed me in the left turn lane after honking, and then the young female driver gave me a gesture that I assume indicated her support of my attempt to obey the law. The gist of this is if I give the bicycle 2 feet plus 3 feet, it leaves about 6 feet for me to navigate the pass. It could not be done in this situation without violating some other statute.
I did not want to get into the middle of this, as I thought the old way worked fairly well. This new statute only muddies the water and creates further dissension between motorist and bicyclist. I understand the thought, but this law will not stop the person that would drive in such a manner as to endanger a bicyclist. It will only create a scenario that has many good drivers now showing disdain for bicyclists. Whatever we do has to work for all users of the roads.
I can imagine the difference of opinion that will erupt when a motorist is stopped for what cannot be anything but a judgment call by the law enforcement officer. Then, because of the differing opinion, you will have an attitude scenario that never leads to a positive ending. Laws like this are very hard to enforce because, while specific in distances, it will be only an educated guess on everyone’s part. In a high-speed area 3 feet might be entirely too close to pass a bicyclist, but because it is now specified in law it is the minimum distance and legal. The wind alone from a large vehicle at high speed might create a control issue for the bicyclist.
This was one of those feel-good laws that come out of the Legislature, usually based on a perception of increasing safety. It seems to be common sense but in practice it creates other problems. Before the law and certainly before the article, I would have used as much of the left turn lane as necessary to make the pass safely. Now I’m not so sure I will not receive a citation for crossing the solid yellow line and using the turn lane for something other than a left turn. The sad part is no law enforcement administrator can instruct the application of this law except that all laws must be obeyed. There is no way to allow for the violation of one law to obey another. I think this creates a classic conundrum.
• Jim Bagwell of Carson City is a Vietnam veteran and graduate of the FBI National Academy who worked 31 years in law enforcement. He and his wife, Lori, own Charley’s Grilled Subs.