'Give bikes 3 feet': New safe-passing law set to enact Tuesday for Ohio cyclists

CINCINNATI -- Cyclists should expect to start finding Ohio roads just a bit safer -- or, at least that's the hope behind a new safe-passing law that goes into effect Tuesday.

Ohio legislators passed in December House Bill 154, which requires motorists to pass bicyclists on the road with no less than a 3-foot cushion, effective March 21, 90 days following the assembly's approval.

The legislation passed as a result of three years of lobbying by the Ohio Bicycle Federation and other advocates to the General Assembly, according to Frank Henson, who heads local bicycle advocacy group Queen City Bike.

"Increasing temperatures will bring more bicyclists to the roads," Henson said. "Now Ohio has a quantifiable safe passing law."

Cincinnati, along with a three other cities across the state, already had a 3-foot safe-passing ordinance on the books.

IN DEPTH: Can Cincinnati take its safe-passing law even further?

The new law also provides that any vehicle -- bicycles, motorcycles, cars and trucks alike -- can proceed through an intersection after coming to a full stop and yielding right-of-way, in the event that a detector in the pavement does not trigger the traffic signal from red to green.

Ohio will become the 40th state to enact some sort of safe-passing law, and the 28th to mandate a specific distance between the cyclist and passing motorist, according to data compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Some states require up to 6-foot cushions.

Kentucky's State Senate approved in 2016 a 3-foot passing law, but that bill failed to leave the State House Transportation Committee before the year's session ended. 

The 3-foot passing requirement is not a silver bullet, though, said Ohio bicycle attorney, Steve Magas. Magas has made a career out of representing cyclists injured or ticketed on both Ohio and Kentucky roads. He said, while critical to a bike-friendly transportation network, passing laws can be difficult to enforce.

"Having the 3-foot law helps... maybe not in writing tickets, but more so in promoting cycling and giving everyone an awareness that, 'Hey, these folks are allowed to be out there. Give them a few feet to pass.'

"It's almost as much a marketing tool for safe driving as it is a law," he said.

The law states that the ticketed offense will be classified as a minor misdemeanor, and each court will determine its own fine schedule.

Pat LaFleur reports on transportation for WCPO. Connect with him on Twitter (@pat_laFleur).

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