Maine’s growing legion of bicyclists — and motorists who share the road with them — will have some new rules to ride by if a bill that addresses such issues as helmet use, safety margins and drunk pedaling becomes law.
A proposal that has support of the 6,000-plus member Bicycle Coalition of Maine as well as the Maine Chiefs of Police Association won preliminary approval without debate this week in the state Senate. It faces further House and Senate votes.
The measure updates, clarifies and in some ways tightens existing laws that apply to bicyclists and motorists to adjust to the rising number of people who can be seen pedaling along the roadsides, said Jeff Miller, the bicycle coalition’s executive director.
Miller points to increased sales of bicycles, reports of increased bike use in tourist areas and a higher number of calls to the bicycle coalition as evidence of the rising number of two-wheelers. And more are likely to appear, he said.
“The end of increasing gas prices is nowhere in sight,” Miller said. “With every increase in the cost of gasoline, more people are going to be going to bicycle transportation.”
The bill in the Legislature seeks to get that message to motor vehicle operators while giving bicyclists new responsibilities to promote their safety as well.
It would make Maine the 10th state to require motorists to give a 3-foot clearance to bicyclists before passing them.
The bill also says that a motor vehicle operator may not pass a bicycle in a no-passing zone until it’s safe to do so.
“We hear from bicyclists all the time about motorists coming too close, not slowing down and not passing in a safe manner,” said Miller, who believes that for the most part motor vehicle operators are aware of bicyclists’ presence, are courteous and give them adequate safety margins.
“This just clarifies for everybody that the motorist needs to give the bicycle three feet,” Miller said.
Sen. Dennis Damon’s bill also tightens up Maine’s bicycle helmet law, which now applies only to children 15 and under and has no enforcement provision. Damon is co-chairman of the Transportation Committee, which refined the bill.
Under the Trenton Democrat’s bill, a child caught riding without a helmet would still get a warning after the first offense. After the second or subsequent offense, police could issue a ticket for $25, but a violator could avoid the fine by showing proof that a helmet has been purchased.
While the bill doesn’t require helmets for riders 16 and older, the bicycle coalition strongly encourages proper helmet use by riders of all ages, said Miller.
Another major component of Damon’s bill makes it a violation to drive a bicycle while intoxicated, or with 0.08 percent blood alcohol content. Miller views the provision as closing a loophole in the law that now lets tipsy bicyclists off easy. Fines for civil violations would range from $25 to $500.
With more people using their bikes for everyday transportation, more are going to banks and other drive-ins to conduct business. But a number of bikers have found drive-in attendants unwilling to serve them, out of concern that they might be sued in the event of an accident.
Damon’s bill initially sought to prohibit discrimination against bicyclists. That provision was cut out and replaced by one that gives businesses waivers from liability in cases involving bicyclists.
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