Keep a Defined Distance in Michigan's Safe Passing Law!
Dear House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Members, Thank you for recently taking testimony on HB 4265. I appreciate your leadership to help prevent more needless bicycle fatalities in Michigan. In 2016, 38 cyclists were killed on Michigan roads and another 2,000 were injured. This was nearly double over the previous year. 2017 proved to be yet another tragic year for Michigan cyclists. This legislation calls for drivers to leave a five-foot distance when passing bicyclists. I was encouraged that a special workgroup was formed to review this important issue in detail. I am writing to express concerns, however, after learning the workgroup is likely to recommend the elimination of a specified distance from the bill. Such action would gravely undermine the original intent of the legislation. Michigan should join the 30 other states and Washington D.C. in enacting a safe passing law that includes a specified distance. Both the House and Senate sponsors of this legislation support the inclusion of a specified numerical distance within statute. Likewise, the Secretary of State’s office and the Michigan Department of Transportation currently recommend a specific distance in their roadway safety communications. The League of Michigan Bicyclists and the general cycling community across the state of Michigan also support a defined distance, ideally five feet as the legislation currently stands. Despite this clear support, the workgroup may recommend the elimination of the five feet as the defined distance in favor of general language that simply states drivers “shall pass at a safe distance to the left of that bicycle at a safe speed…” As Chairman Cole recently stated on the Guy Gordon Show in relation to HB 4265, “I’m worried about working on passing good policy. Good policy always comes first.” The bicycling community feels strongly that the inclusion of a specific distance is the foundation of good policy on this issue. The Michigan cycling community supports a defined distance for several reasons: ● Michigan’s “What Every Driver Must Know” manual already provides that a safe distance for passing bicyclists is three to five feet. ● Autonomous vehicle technology that detects bicycles on the roadways is on the rise. As this technology evolves, a specific safe passing distance will need to be programmed. Without a clear distance in the MVC, manufacturers of these vehicles will define what is safe. ● Not specifying a distance in statute is ambiguous and relies on the judicial system to define what is safe. ● Driver’s education programs must have a clear directive from the MVC in order to eliminate confusion among instructors. A defined safe passing distance will ensure that all new drivers receive uniform proper training. ● General language will add to growing confusion among motorists and law enforcement across the state as local units of government pass a patchwork of ordinances with differing safe passing requirements. Currently, we have nine communities with five foot passing ordinances and one with a three foot ordinance. Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo Township, Ann Arbor, Portage, Oshtemo Township, Norton Shores, Muskegon, and Dearborn have five-foot ordinances, while Battle Creek has a three-foot ordinance. Judging distance can be hard, and therefore, a discussion of what is “safe” is germane. For this reason, Michigan has a “Move Over” law to protect drivers of authorized emergency vehicle operators, including police, fire, rescue, ambulance, and road service workers. I urge this committee to consider a similar provision for bicyclists within HB 4265 to extend these protections to bicyclists who are inherently vulnerable on our roadways similar to emergency vehicle operators. Michigan is only one of eleven states without a law on how to safely pass bicyclists. The vast majority of states have safe passing laws with specified distances, while only nine have general safe passing language. Instead of following the lead of these nine states with generic passing laws, you are in the unique position to make Michigan a national leader on this important public safety issue. Please help prevent more needless tragedies on Michigan roadways by enacting the strongest safe passing law possible. Thank you again!
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