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Move over when passing bicyclists

Last month two of these traffic safety articles dealt with bicycling: one about the National Transportation Safety Board asking for policy overhauls to increase the safety of bicyclists and stop the ever-increasing fatalities and injuries caused by vehicle/bicycle crashes, and the second article dealing with vehicle and traffic laws applicable to bicyclists. That article also gave direction to vehicle drivers when overtaking a bicyclist from behind.

Since those articles, I have done a small amount of biking myself, and after a recent example of poor judgment on the part of the driver of an 18-wheeler, this article is meant to emphasize Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 1122-a, which requires any driver of a vehicle overtaking, from behind, a bicycle proceeding on the same side of a roadway to pass to the left of such bicycle “at a safe distance until safely clear thereof.”

Perhaps, unfortunately, this law does not specify just what a “safe distance” is, and thus leaves interpretation to the driver of the vehicle. However, on a state highway when there are no vehicles coming the other way, why would any driver, let alone a driver of a big rig, stay in the middle of the driving lane while passing a bicyclist riding to the right of the fog line?

Normally I am a big supporter of commercial drivers of large vehicles like tractor-trailers and buses, having been a tour bus driver myself as a retirement job for seven years and over 100,000 miles all over the Northeast. So I know a little bit about driving a big vehicle. However, professional drivers with commercial driver’s licenses don’t always do the right thing, as was the case just recently when I was riding on state Route 11B, where the speed limit is 55 mph. On a straight stretch of the highway and with no oncoming traffic, a tractor-trailer passed me at 55 mph or more without even moving to the left side of the drive lane, much less moving over the center pavement markings.

When one is riding a bicycle, it is very uncomfortable to have a fast-moving 18-wheeler pass only 5 or 6 feet from you. With the law written the way it is, this truck driver did nothing wrong. But he/she certainly didn’t show any courtesy, either.

Unfortunately, too many bicyclists do not obey VTL, like riding on the wrong side of the road, not stopping for red lights and stop signs, and riding after dark without proper lights, all of which contributes to disrespect for cyclists. But in the instance I described, drivers like the one who failed to move over create disrespect for big-rig drivers. We all must remember to share the road with all users — it makes life a whole lot better.

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