Bicycle Safety Bill Stalls in South Dakota House

By James Nord | February 2, 2015

State lawmakers want to make bicycling safer in South Dakota, but they’re having trouble figuring out how exactly to do it.

The House Transportation Committee on Jan. 27 for the second time was unable to reach a consensus over a measure intended to boost safety for cyclists when vehicles pass them on the road. The state Department of Transportation proposed the legislation, which would require a vehicle to stay 3 feet away from cyclists while passing them.

But so far lawmakers haven’t been able to come up with an agreement over how large of a buffer should apply or whether country and city roads should be treated differently.

Committee Chairman Mike Verchio said bicycle safety is important, but he didn’t imagine the measure would draw so much debate.

“It sounded so simple when it first came up,” he said, adding after the hearing: “It’s a big deal. Safety’s a big deal, and I just want to make sure we’ve got it right.”

Verchio wants to differentiate between city streets and rural highways, where he thinks drivers should have to change lanes to go around a cyclist.

There are 25 states, plus the District of Columbia, with a 3-foot cushion law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“We’ve had some accidents this year, especially in our town, and bike safety is an area where there’s some interest to pass some bills,” Rep. Steve Hickey, R-Sioux Falls, said after the hearing.

From 2010 to 2013 in South Dakota, 390 cyclists were injured and three died in collisions with vehicles.

Kasey Abbott, president of RASDAK, a roughly 500-mile bike tour across the state, said he would be happy with the 3-foot buffer between passing cars and cyclists. It’s when cars blow past only a foot away, he said, that he has been forced into the ditch.

Abbott said his first concern is getting the roughly 150 riders expected to take part in the tour in June safely across the state while having fun in the process. So far, registrants hail from states ranging from Connecticut to Alaska.

“I would love to be able to tell them, ‘Hey, we just passed this 3-foot rule, and we’re stressing safety in South Dakota,’” Abbott said.

The committee appointed a sub- to begin negotiating a solution.

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