BURLEY • A bill to improve bicycle safety in Idaho has failed to reach a committee vote, and will die in the waning days of this year’s legislative section.
H.586 was introduced by Rep. Roy Lacey, D-Pocatello, but stalled after its introduction and has been dormant for about two weeks. It would have required drivers to give bicyclists extra space while passing them on the state’s roads, but after Lacey’s fellow legislators sent it back for revision, its progress halted.
“Rather than take a chance on bad legislation, I’m just going to let it die there,” Lacey said Monday, adding that some legislators wanted to amend the bill in ways that would have “ruined the bicycling experience for cyclists.”
Similar bills have been introduced four times, only to fail. This is the second try by Lacey, a cyclist himself.
His proposal would have banned motorists from passing bicyclists – or runners, horseback riders or people in wheelchairs – when there’s oncoming traffic unless they can safely do so while maintaining at least a three-foot separation between the vehicle’s outermost right side and the person being passed.
To prevent worries of traffic jams, the bill would have required bicyclists to turn off the roadway when three or more vehicles line up behind them. It would also order them to ride single file and as close to the right side of the road as possible.
Minidoka County Sheriff Kevin Halverson said a similar bike safety ordinance failed to find favor in his county last year.
Now that the state bill died, Minidoka County officials will take a look at another draft of the local bike safety ordinance.
Halverson said the law won’t necessarily change motorists’ habits now, but will pay off five or 10 years down the road by changing the mindset of young drivers.
“The main thing is bringing public awareness and educating drivers,” Halverson said.
He said most close calls come from inattentive driving rather than from motorists’ deliberate actions.
But, Halverson said, cyclists are sometimes their own worst enemies and have to take responsibility for their actions.
“It needs to be a two-way street,” he said.
Alice Schenk, cyclist and proponent of improving bike safety in Idaho, said the new law would have at least created more awareness.
Schenk lost one of her friends, Lona Hymas-Smith, when the Burley artist was struck from behind while riding March 9 on U.S. Idaho 30, west of Burley.
“Maybe people would say there is a new law on the books and become more aware that cyclists have rights and are out on the road,” Schenk said.
Schenk, who has encountered her own close calls with vehicles while riding her bicycle, said bike riders really need a 10-foot safety zone from vehicles.
“When a vehicle buzzes us, they don’t understand how truly fragile we are out there,” Schenk said. “We have the right to be on the road, too, and we don’t want to be killed out there. Just give us a little margin of safety out there.”