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Baby Steps

There is reason for celebration for cyclists in Virginia this month: the “3 feet to pass” bill was just passed by the legislature and will head to Gov. McAuliffe’s desk!  VBF says 5 years of work went into this bill, it was presented to the legislature over and over and defeated every time.

The broader cycling legislation scene, however, is less bright.  The Washington Post wrote an article recently about the fate of the “following too closely” bill.  This year the bill seemed off to a great start: it had a well-known republican sponsor (Barbara Comstock), made it past the House of Delegates, and then to everyone’s surprise died in the Senate Transportation Committee.  The final voting results are here (link updated): Senators Deeds (Committee Chair), Marsh, Newman, Watkins, Puckett, Smith, Miller, Carrico, and Alexander all voted to kill it.  The official email addresses for all of these senators can be found here.  I sent each one of them the following email:

Dear Senator ______,

I am writing to you today to express my disappointment that you, as a member of the Senate Transportation Committee, voted to pass by HB 82 (Driver of motor vehicle following too closely; includes non-motor vehicles).

Virginia is the only state that doesn’t protect cyclists from being tailgated, and this legislation merely served to correct an embarrassing omission in the existing Code. This bill addressed a very basic and important safety issue for Virginians lawfully utilizing our public roads. There is absolutely no reason to have opposed this bill.

I understand there was discussion about “enforceability” regarding this bill. This is an invalid argument. There is no more or less difficulty in enforcing this law with regards to following too closely behind a cyclist than with the current law which forbids following too closely behind motor vehicles. Following too closely laws are often invoked in the instance of a rear-end collision. Anytime a car rear-ends another car the driver will be cited for following too closely, even if they were not speeding or breaking any other laws. This practice helps determine fault for insurance purposes. Currently, if a cyclist is rear-ended by a driver there is often little that a police officer can cite the driver for, even if the collision was clearly the driver’s fault. This can mean the driver’s insurance will not pay for the cyclist’s injuries, which is a great injustice against already vulnerable road users.

Please don’t cast a vote that leaves certain Virginians unprotected by the law. I hope you will reconsider your position on this issue before it comes up for a vote again next year.

Sincerely,

I borrowed a bit of the text from VBF’s post here, and you can read more about the “enforceability” discussion in their writeup here.

Closing notes: I would like to say that as a resident of Arlington I am very proud of Senator Barbara Favola who cast one of the 4 votes in favor of the bill, and also that Delegate Comstock of Fairfax deserves a thank-you email for her work championing the following too closely bill, despite its ultimate failure in the senate committee. Delegate Comstock is a new convert to the bike cause, she frequently opposed bike bills in the past and it’s important to recognize her efforts this year.

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