As of October 1st, there have been some changes to Nevada traffic laws that affect cyclists.
The 3 Foot Rule
The 3 foot rule, which now requires a driver of a motor vehicle to overtake and pass a bicycle or an electric bicycle proceeding in the same direction by: (1) moving the vehicle into the immediate left lane, if there is more than one lane traveling in the same direction and it is safe to move into the lane; or (2) passing to the left of the bicycle or electric bicycle at a distance of not less than 3 feet from the bicycle or electric bicycle.
I don’t usually have problems with cars coming too close to me while riding around downtown. Speeds are much lower, and it is sometimes possible to take the lane, giving me all the space I need. As the traffic speeds increase though, we definitely need more room. It’s scary to have a side mirror on a 3/4 ton pickup skim your shoulder. This may be a hard rule to enforce, but hopefully drivers will be more mindful of just how far they need to be over. Feeling safe on the road is one of the number one excuses for not bicycle commuting, so hopefully this will help break down another barrier.
Many of us wondered if the community would get the word after the law went into effect. From what I have seen, the news has spread. In the last couple weeks, I’ve noticed many motorists giving me a lot more space than normal, often times much more than 3 feet. This really surprised me. I also heard from a friend that has to use a truck for his job, that their drivers were briefed by management on these new laws. The locals news outlets also did a good job at getting the word out.
Just recently California’s governor, Jerry Brown, vetoed their proposed 3 foot passing law. Part of the CA3 ft law stated that drivers were allowed to pass a bicyclist with less than 3 ft when speeds were under15 MPH. CHP and Caltrans were concerned that drivers would try to slow down to 15 mph or less in constrained conditions in order to avoid the 3 ft passing requirement which would cause numerous rear end collisions.
Good job to all those here in Nevada, including Muscle Powered, who helped get this law passed in our state!
Vulnerable Highway Users Law
Motorists found at fault in a collision with a bicyclist or pedestrian can be charged with reckless driving and face harsher penalties. One hopes they never have to exercise their Vulnerable User rights, but maybe it’ll help deter harassment. Recently in WA state, a teen driver was fined $42 for killing a cyclist. I don’t know about you, but the tickets I’ve received for minor infractions since I was old enough to drive were always steeper than this. During one of the Poker Runs in Reno earlier in the year, a cyclist got a ticket that was over $100 for riding on the sidewalk at the park!
Cell Phone Ban
Driving while talking, typing or reading on a hand-held cellphone or similar device is now illegal in Nevada. Some say driving while talking or texting can delay reaction time as much as driving legally drunk.
For most of the urban and road riding I do, I think the cell phone ban may have the most impact on my safety. Sometimes I’ll find myself right outside a talking driver’s window with no eye contact at all. I’ve become invisible to talkers in roundabouts. I’ve had to be careful not to get pinned by people trying to make three point turns with one hand while in conversation. What’s even more scary is that these incidents usually happen in school zones. People don’t let their kids walk to school because it’s too dangerous…and then go ahead and do the very thing that is creating this danger.
Arguments against the cell phone ban though, say that people will become even more dangerous now, hiding the phones down low and out of view from law enforcement. Already there are reports of people pulled off dangerously alongside the highways making calls. I still see a few people on their phones, driving with one hand with that zombified blank stare on their face. Obviously there will be a learning curve and resistance to change on this law. I think most people are taking it to heart though.
Responsibilities of the Cyclist
But amidst these victories for cyclists and pedestrians, we have a growing number of new cyclists on Carson City’s streets that seem to have no clue about road rules. In fact, I now have more traffic incidents with other cyclists than cars. Just the other day while riding north on Mountain Street, I saw a cyclist riding towards me on the wrong side of the street. I figured if I held my line, he’d realize his error and cross over to the other side of the road. Instead, he pedaled through the 4-way stop without slowing down, and passed me on my right near the gutter. I may have said something, but the fact that he had no shirt on and was wearing some sort of dust mask or respirator threw me off a bit. If someone was out driving like this, there would be a man-hunt on.
Breaking the rules can’t all be blamed on the newbies though. There are plenty of us seasoned cyclists that share the blame too, specifically in the area of stop sign etiquette. When there are pedestrians present, or cars approaching or already stopped in the intersection, a cyclist barreling through the stop sign without stopping is just as shocking as when a car does it. Not only is it rude, but you might cause a car to swerve and take someone else out. Cycling is all about freedom, but not at the expense of others. If we cyclists want respect on the road, we must also show it back.
What have you seen so far? Have you noticed passing cars giving you more space? Do you see less people on cell phones? Do you feel safer on Nevada roads?