SB 553 will come to a vote on Monday, March 30. This bill has many new updates to better regulate and protect modern cyclists, including:
- 3-foot passing requirement
- Use of either right or left arm for signaling
- Ability to proceed through an intersection, when clear, if unable to trigger the traffic signal sensor
BUT, one provision has been added which is problematic. The bill would restrict cyclists to ride single-file on all state and federal highways.
Why is that a bad idea? Because it actually worsens safety and convenience for cyclists and drivers.
Stay with me here, because it’s a little counter-intuitive. It can help to split state roads into two categories: Busy and Quiet.
Busy: Most of our experiences of state roads are big highways like SR-23 or SR-933. In those cases, cyclists will be riding single-file anyway out of a healthy respect for their safety. In these cases, the law is redundant.
Quiet: Many state roads outside of major cities are rural, straight, and infrequently trafficked. On these roads, the law would have a constraining effect on cyclists’ behavior to keep them from riding in the way which they would normally find safest. On quiet rural state roads (the only roads where the law has any effect), the provision worsens safety and convenience for cyclists and drivers.
Why? There are at least four good reasons:
1. Any group cycling along will be at least twice as long on a state or federal highway, thus making the group more difficult to pass rather than easier.
2. It lessens the visibility of cyclists, since they are viewed from behind, Drivers will find themselves more often surprised by cyclists, with the feeling that they “came out of nowhere,” or that they were suddenly “right on top of them.” Drivers don’t like to be surprised by us, and we don’t like them to be surprised by us either.
3. It outlaws a cyclist from even passing any other cyclist, so any group that enters a state or federal highway as one group will quickly be fractured into several smaller groups, which are more difficult and annoying to pass. Drivers will find themselves in the middle of groups of cyclists rather than passing them all at once.
One might suppose that police would decline to enforce the law in regards to one cyclist momentarily passing another, but already police quite vigorously enforce the two-abreast law whenever someone passes a group of two. No passing is an unavoidable consequence of this provision.
4. The provision would force cyclists to move from open, smooth roads with generous sight-lines to narrow, curvy back roads. One might say “Cyclists don’t belong on state and federal highways in the first place!”, and in fact most of the time, cyclists would agree. I do very little of my riding on highways, as do most. But there are some sections of highways that are sufficiently rural and infrequently trafficked that they are actually the safest roads around.
The best example of this phenomenon is the Ride Across Indiana (RAIN) ride, in which cyclists roll from Terre Haute to Earlham College in one day on US-40. This works great because nearly all of US-40 has four lanes, long sight-lines and generally little traffic. Drivers can see cyclists ahead from far away, and it is very easy for them to change lanes well ahead of time. If RAIN were conducted on back roads, they may well face fewer drivers but those drivers would be much more frazzled by the encounter.
As you can see, the effects of this provision aren’t just more dangerous to cyclists, they’re actually also more annoying and stressful for drivers! Like most riders when I’m on the road I try to be as inconveniencing as possible, and I generally try to avoid annoying drivers as much as I can. This bill would much more difficult for all of us who try to ride courteously.
That said, even with the single-file provision this bill SB 553 is a great bill. So when you call or email your representative, let her know that “The bill is great, except…”
You can find out who is your legislator here: LINK. Be polite but get your message across–the bill is great but this particular provision is bad for everyone. The vote is in the House Monday, so get your comments in before the weekend and make sure your voice is heard!