Three bills that could make it easier for police to cite drivers who are at fault in car-bike collisions are moving forward in the Virginia General Assembly.
Bicycling advocacy groups, including the Virginia Bicycling Federation, have been unsuccessfully lobbying for stricter safety laws since the 2010 session.
The initial inspiration for the effort was the death of Daniel Hersh, a Virginia Beach man who was killed in April 2009 when he was struck by an SUV while riding his bike. The driver was not charged in the incident.
While there are laws on the books now that police can use in such cases, the laws in Virginia are not entirely clear in regard to collisions between a motor vehicle and a bicycle, said Allen Muchnick, an Arlington resident and Northern Virginia member of the Virginia Bicycling Federation.
They are advocating a legal change so that “when a bicyclist is injured by a negligent motorist, a traffic citation could be issued and, if necessary, civil damages could be pursued,” he said.
One bill, sponsored in the House of Delegates by local Dels. Alfonso Lopez (D-Dist. 49) and Mark Keam (D-Dist. 35), would change the law on following too closely to include bicycles, mopeds and electric bikes. This would mean a driver who hits a bicyclist from behind could be cited for following too closely, as they could if they struck a car.
That bill was backed by the House Transportation Committee on a 20-1 vote Tuesday.
A similar bill in the Senate, introduced by Fredericksburg Sen. Bryce Reeves (R-Dist. 17), includes the “following too closely” change and also would require a minimum 3-foot passing clearance for a car or truck moving past a bicycle or other slower-moving vehicle. The current legal requirement is 2 feet.
The Senate version of the bill unanimously passed the Transportation Committee on Wednesday.
Fairfax Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Dist. 34) aims to address a different issue, requiring that people parked on a street use caution in opening their car door into traffic.
Bicyclists commonly refer to this as “dooring” -- when they are hit by a car door that suddenly opens or they have to suddenly swerve to avoid being hit, putting them at greater risk of a collision with a moving car.
Petersen’s bill, which has now passed the full Senate on a 23-17 vote, would implement a $100 fine for such a traffic infraction.
Muchnik said the goal is not just to punish negligent drivers, but also to raise public awareness.
“Having the law changed helps educate motorists,” he said.