Independence Day 2011 was a special holiday for bicycle riders – as of July 1st, a long-debated idea has finally become GA law: motorists can be ticketed for passing bicyclists closer than three feet.
I speak (or, write) as a once-dedicated bicyclist who had no other choice than to ride down the middle of the lane on a two-lane road up a hill as part of my daily commute. I now drive a car, and ride a bicycle less often due to numerous long-distance obligations. So I’m presenting both sides of the issue as best as I can.
This law, from both sides, is great. It clears the air of confusion: three feet of space is needed. No less, no more.
In the beginning:
At one time, I was too poor to own a car and I rode for over 137 miles each week. My work hours were curtailed to some degree by my distance limitations and by the time required to ride a bike to work. Managers were forced to give me a full hour on last-minute work assignments, because I had to shower, pack my dry bag, and pack my drinks, asthma medicines, and a fresh change of clothes. Then I had to drop into a store occasionally to refresh my supply of Wet Ones, my secret weapon against sweat-stained riding gear and smelly entrances. I rode through rain, hail, high winds, and even a small tornado’s perimeter winds (as in swept off the street & thrown into a ditch).
It’s no secret that bicycling is grueling-hard work; some people ride to lose weight & tighten the muscles.
Drivers have actually passed me by so fast and so close that I feared for my life. One car had “buzzed” me and my jacket caught on the side mirror, and I was almost ripped off my bike and down the street. The car slowed, my jacket was released, and I stopped to pray in thanks. I later wore a yellow shirt that said: “I will get off the road when you give me a bike lane.” And motorists responded to the shirt in a most negative way.
A few people yelled at me about how un-American I was for not paying high gas prices and tag/title fees as car drivers are forced to do. One person told me that I should be ashamed for not paying insurance fees like car drivers are required to do. Those drivers essentially abused me for not spending the same money as them.
From bicyclist to motorist:
After a while, I was blessed with a free car. A nice lady concerned for my health and safety gave me a family car, and my career blossomed. As a driver, I learned to deeply value time. Suddenly I was able to go to work, school, interviews, and other travels, all in the same day. Driving changed my life for the better, and I earned more money as a car owner. Car owners can also recover the costs of driving in tax deductions for 1099 or contract workers.
From the motorist’s point of view:
Now, as a driver, I finally understand the intense emotion and anger that car owners threw out at me when I was bicycling – through the middle finger, death threats at traffic lights, shoes thrown at me at gas stations, theft and damage to my bike, and other abuses.
In the worst of economies, gas was scarce, and other people were stuck crying their eyeballs out at empty gas pumps while I laughed as I whizzed right by. The carefree look on my face did not help anyone get over the grief of $125 towing fees. I now know that uphill rides on a two-lane road cost drivers 3-5 minutes of time. Asserting my rights to the same space as cars as allowed by law forced police officers to stop their busy days to answer questions from frustrated, angry 911 callers who disagreed and demanded that I be arrested for riding on a street. Some drivers don’t set aside time for (nor do they expect) a rider blocking their last minute rush to get to work, the doctor, their child’s school, day care (late fees can run as high as $60 the first 5 minutes), and more. But was any of the abuse – ANY of it – a result of possible failures on the part of the drivers? Yep. All of it. They failed to plan.
Bike riders actually stop peoples’ lives in some ways, and force frantic drivers to face the VERY hard reality that we don’t always plan our days well, and this bites us in the butt for it. In the desperation to make ends meet and stretch the time (and energy), angry neurotic people will blame their failures on the slow people.
As a driver, the nasty fear of negligent homicides comes to my mind when passing a bicyclist. Instead of 3 feet, the entire lane is my personal choice. But there are excellent drivers out there who can estimate three feet, and boisterous teens are now being taught (hopefully) in Driver’s Ed that “buzzing” a cyclist can get you a ticket and a court date if it’s malicious. I cringe anytime a bicyclist has to be passed, but I’m thankful as a driver that three feet is mandatory. Angry drivers with road rage no longer can justify their anger – as a fellow driver, I now am gifted with the powerful feeling of Vindication – finally, I was right ALL ALONG to fear a less than 3-feet gap.
Vindication feels good:
It’s time to risk the anger of my neighbors: “I was right all along!” To the fat angry chain smoker with four small kids in the car (all without seat belts) who called 911 on me: “Your call was meaningless. We bicyclists can now call 911 on YOU.” To other bicyclists: “High-five, buddy! Now let’s all party!”
Although I will never hear a single apology for all of the beer cans and rocks thrown at me and for all of the doors that slammed me in the face by screaming teenagers, this law makes up for the abuse in some ways. Someone finally was forced to sit down and think about the safety of those who wish to stay green with bikes.
Please feel free to comment and share your opinions, for or against my opinion, because I seek to understand all sides of the issue.