Wednesday, June 11, 2008

New South Carolina Laws to Protect Cyclists

Mark Sanford, Governor of my adopted home state of South Carolina, signed a new bill into law yesterday, clarifying that cyclists have as much right to the state's roads as motorists do.

Motorists will be required to keep a safe distance between the motor vehicle and the cyclist. As I see it, there is no three-foot passing law that other states have enacted, but I guess at least if a motorist hits a cyclist he can’t argue that he was at a safe distance.

There are provisions for fines of up to $1,000 if a cyclist is seriously injured.

It is now a misdemeanor to harass, yell at, honk at, or throw and object in the direction of a cyclist. Punishable by a $250 fine, or 30 days prison, or both.

Cyclists are required to use a bike lane where provided, but may move into the road to avoid a hazard. Cyclists are not required to use a separate multi-use bike path, and can opt to ride on the road.

A cyclist can ride on the shoulder of the road, or the road, but is not required to ride on the shoulder.

Cyclists are not allowed to ride more than two abreast on public roads, which means they can ride in twos if circumstances allow. (This has been the law in SC all along and remains the same.)

A cyclist is no longer required to have a bell on their bike. (Someone should get a no-bell prize for that one :) I guess if it is a misdemeanor to honk at a cyclist, it is only fair that cyclist should not be allowed to ring their bell in anger.

Cyclists should signal a left turn by extending their left arm straight out, and in the case of a right turn, may signal with the right arm straight out. In other words, point in the direction they intend to go.

I am pleased, as this is what I have been doing all along. It seems to make more sense than signaling a right turn with your left arm at a 90 degree angle pointing upwards.

This bill has been kicking around since 2004. Sadly, it was the deaths of two cyclists that spurred it on. The new bicycle safety legislation was signed into law yesterday, Tuesday, June 10th, 2008, the day after Rachel Giblin’s birthday and the day before Tom Hoskins’ birthday. Rachel would have been 17. Tom would have been 50. Both died in vehicle-bike crashes.

South Carolina is unfortunately seventh in the nation when it comes to cycling fatalities, a horrible record. It saddened me when my local paper, the Post & Courier, printed this story on Monday and many hateful comments from readers were posted.

It only goes to show when people can no longer discriminate on the grounds of race, religion, or sexual orientation, they can improvise and still find someone to hate.

I am not a Lance Armstrong wannabe, I was racing bikes before Lance Armsrtong’s parents were born. I just want to ride my bike and come home safely, as we all do. I have a wife and also two daughters who love me, and would miss me.

I don’t expect attitudes to change overnight, however, this is a huge step forward. Every time another state passes laws like these, it makes it a little easier for the remaining states to follow suit.


Anonymous said...

Good to hear about the changes in laws. As you said, however, the comments in the story you linked to are dismaying. I used to see similar things in Australia, albeit with less vehemence and threats to murder, when any story about cycling was printed (except in the sports pages).

The complaints about cyclists delaying cars make me think- What if I was driving a heavily laden truck at the same speed (as I ride), would the impatient driver behind me harrass me, honk at me and pass me dangerously? Of course not- it is their perception that they cannot be harmed by me that pushes them to do so.

In London (where I live now), most drivers realise that you will probably pass them, and this lessens the impatient behaviour, except for the odd idiot.


Anonymous said...

$250 fine for throwing something at a cyclist. The good news is, this is also littering that comes with a $1,000 fine.

Anonymous said...

Good but simple fines are insufficient. Drivers should lose their driving privileges for indiscretions. When Boonen was ticketed for speeding in Europe, he lost his privilege to drive for 30 days as it is a common penalty. The ugly comments reflect common attitudes.

Not until laws are effectively and fairly enforced will VC be a credible and viable approach.

Anonymous said...

"Cyclists are required to use a bike lane where provided"

That is a shame. The slow erosion of the right to use the road and the rise of car users vision that the main road belongs to them.

Anonymous said...

By the way, the three large ads on the article and comment page of Charleston Post-Courier are for autos and auto magazine. Such layouts are common throughout the USA...not much more needs to be said.

Josh Boggs said...

"Cyclists are required to use a bike lane where provided"

There has also been a clause in the SC state bicycle laws about riding as close to the right side of the road as you can, safely. That leaves it up to the cyclists' discretion if there is debris/obstructions in the bike lanes. I don't know if that's changed with the new laws or not.

This is a BIG triumph for the Palmetto Cycling Coalition, the state's bicycling advocacy group. I used to be on the Board of Directors and I know how hard that group works to achieve things like this. It's just a shame that innocent lives had to be taken (again) to finally get something done about it.

Thanks again, Dave, for a great post.

Gary Burkholder said...

Dave, judging from the comments on the Post & Courier website this is a much needed law.

Anonymous said...

Whew! The anti-cycling bashers posting comments there are worse than I could fathom. Seems we are fighting a civil rights battle here, and the year is 1908.


Stuart K. said...

This is very similar to the current traffic laws in Oklahoma--while it was a great, comprehensive move on the part of the state legislature, it has not changed a damn thing. Motorists still rev their engines, honk, yell, buzz cyclists, etc.

Anonymous said...

Good Lord! My mind reels at the hatred shown in the comments on the Post & Courier website. Just what kind of physcopath is a person(?) that feels a cyclist ought to be maimed or murdered because they slowed traffic for a few precious seconds. Maybe SC drivers should have a mandatory phsyc evaluation before being granted a license?

Anonymous said...

It just shows to go ya, if you drive a car in SC, you might be a redneck. Ugh..sorry, I couldn't resist.

Marla said...

Bravo SC!

Grump said...

It just goes to show that wherever you go, people are the same, but different.
Drivers just do dumb thoughtless things, no matter what state they live in.

Will said...

wow the comments to that newspaper article are just awful.

Why is it the USA and the UK that are so intolerant of cyclists? So much pointless hate.

I guess it's not part of the culture like mainland Europe (I live in France and the admittedly crazy drivers are virtually always respectful of cyclists)

Link to a photo of a nice french bike sign requiring 1.5 metres (5 feet!) between bike and car.

Will said...

feeling less charitable: one wonders whether the American obesity epidemic is somehow linked to the hatred of cyclists (and South Carolina is right up there in the fatty race)

Anonymous said...

"Cyclists should signal a left turn by extending their left arm straight out, and in the case of a right turn, may signal with the right arm straight out. In other words, point in the direction they intend to go.

I am pleased, as this is what I have been doing all along. It seems to make more sense than signaling a right turn with your left arm at a 90 degree angle pointing upwards."

While that makes sense, is signaling right turns with the left arm raised at 90° not allowed then? That's the hand signal for driving a car, but I suppose drivers can't be expected to remember stuff they should learned. When I ride my fixed wheel bike, I don't want to signal with my right hand because that's where my hand brake is.

Be that as it may, it's good that a state draws attention to these laws because in most cases nobody, even the police, know traffic laws as they pertain to cyclists.

Anonymous said...

"As a fellow S.C. transplant I can attest this morning a TUNDRA driver did his best to terminate my existence."
Recall, this is the same S.C. county that refused monies requiring statewide bicycle path construction.
Were not for extra vigilance while riding you would be reading about my demise in the SUN News.
People DO break laws, existing or new, daily here in America!
(Ask any law enforcement official for confirmation.)

Anonymous said...

Well, I was a bit surprised reading the postings that followed the article. Whatever happened to Southern hospitality? I've heard that drivers in Atlanta were the worst, so did this habit work its way up the coast? And I thought the drivers in the SF Bay Area were bad.

Ron George said...

I'm glad to hear this law is in effect. Why doesn't NY change I wonder.

Here's another 'hatemail' from the staff at Tulsa World (Oklahoma). Its not as scything as your link but nevertheless it shows a complete indifference to bicyclists as people who share the road with motorists. Sad.

Anonymous said...

We need both better laws and better awareness programs to improve road safety, but as a long time, law-observing cyclist, I think that cyclists are their own worst enemy.

First of all, we need to be aware ourselves that for car drivers, the word "cyclist" means everyone on a bicycle. This includes the totally clueless, the ones who can't be bothered to stop at stop signs or red lights, the ones who dart onto and off the sidewalk for their own convenience, the ones who ride the wrong way on one way streets, the ones who just bought a racing bike and are riding in traffic with no awareness that road bike steering is a lot more sensitive than it was on their old mountain bike in the 1980s, the ones who can never stop for anything suddenly because they willingly ride a bicycle not equipped with brakes, and so on. There isn't a driver on the road who can't recite a long list of such examples from their every day driving at the mere mention of cyclist rights. It makes us all look like a bunch of anarchistic goofs, and make no mistake about, all of us who ride bikes get tarred by the same brush.

Then there is the huge disconnect between what knowledgeable, experienced road cyclists know is safer, and what drivers think cyclists should be doing. Almost without exception, drivers think that bicycles should be hugging the curb, gutter or parked cars, whereas effective cycling-aware cyclists know that for maximum safety, they should be riding a reasonable distance away from these, and that they should be riding as vehicles (which includes lane changing, taking the lane when appropriate, etc.).

This disconnect is probably the single biggest source of shouted abuse and other rage-related driver behaviour against cyclists. Effective cycling isn't very effective if only a few select cyclists know about this concept. Drivers need to be made aware that bicycles are vehicles and that they should not expect cyclists to be riding over sewer grates, roadside debris, broken pavement because cities ignore the edges of roads when they do maintenance.

Sprocketboy said...

Although I applaud the South Carolina legislature for passing the new cycling law, after reading the comments from people to the newspaper I have a feeling I will not be doing a cycling holiday in that state. North Carolina and Virginia are quite happy to accept my money, and at least are making an effort to bring in visitors.

ridethewomble said...

I heartily agree, SprocketBoy. The comments on that article have undone all the positive messages SC has been trying to send out. Tourism is a HUGE part of the South Carolina economy. After reading that stuff, I can promise you I won't be crossing the border to spend a nickel. That's not just hot air, either. I vacation 15 miles from the SC border, my brother (used to) go to Folly Beach every year, and my wife and her friends (used to) do the Cooper River Bridge Run annually. I can promise you I will get in the way of all those things to the maximum extent possible. I'll go as far as begging my sister-in-law to let my brother use her NC beach house, so he realizes there's NO reason to waste his time in SC.

I'm not even going to take the kids to North Myrtle to buy Black Cats any more. :-)

Let's not forget - this vitriol is directed at laws that make it illegal to throw something at a cyclist. You're not welcome in the Palmetto State. Keep your money.

To heck with you, SC. If that's the way you feel about me when I want to go for a ride, you can have your crappy roads all to yourselves. ...and keep your hammocks, your boiled peanuts, your cheesy musical theaters, your run down strand, and South of the Border. I can make my OWN shrimp and grits, thank you very much.

Anonymous said...

It is astounding to read such ignorant comments in the linked article.

What strikes me is the referral to cycling as a "special interest group". This perception is the route of the problem. These closed minded zombies obviously can't even think for themselves. The thought of cycling as a viable alternative form of transportation and a way of life has not even occurred to them. It is obvious they feel everyone should live the same destructive existence they are locked into. Assuming many of these commentors are at least semi-educated "intelligent" people it strikes fear into my heart and despair that we are on a one way course of destruction, that the "Western Way" it too ingrained in too many to effect change quick enough to pull out of the downward spiral our culture and environment are in. It's not a wonder when North America has the lowest ridership in the World.