On its last day the General Assembly approved “safe passing” bills H7243A (sponsor: Gemma) and S2706A (Connors) which the Governor has allowed to become law without his signature.
Al Gemma took the leadership to get something passed and so it was basically his version of 3 similar bills that essentially calls for motorists to pass on the left with “a distace that is sufficient to prevent contact with the person operating the bicycle if the person were to fall over into the driver’s lane of traffic.” This applies only if the driver is going over 15mph The fine for a violation is the standard $85.
Some in the RIBike leadership felt this language gave a better visual clue than the more usual “3 foot passing” criterion in the original Connors bill and was in a similar bill (H7933 sponsored by Rep. McNamara.
Rep. Gemma’s original bill called for applying this only to motorists travelling over 35mph. We had testified to remove that speed restriction entirely, but on the last day it was changed to 15mph without opportunity for public comment as the Assembly was amending and passing many many bills then in a mad rush to adjourn. Rep Gemma also amended his orignal bill to call it “Frank’s Law.”
Evidently Senator Connors went along with this, and he agreed to drop the possibity of penalties of 10 days of community service and/or 10 day license suspension for violations.
TheRIBike Coalition felt this law,though somewhat disappointing, was better than nothing, noting the penalty of $85 remains woefully inadequate if the bicyclist is actually injured or killed. However, it can be useful in driver education, and perhaps if deliberate harassment is actually observed.
We had asked for a “vulnerable road user” bill to enhance penalties when a biker or other vulnerable road user (such as pedestrians, police, highway workers, wheelchair users, first responders) are actually struck by a motorist not taking due care. But apparently that was too different from the passing guidelines in the bills filed, and no such amendments were formally offerred. But now that the safe passing distance issue is settled, RIBike hopes to find a sponsor in the next session for such a vulnerable road user bill, and work to find allies with the others users affected.