A new law takes effect today requiring motorists to allow a 4-foot "cushion of safety" when passing a bicyclist. It also permits a driver to cross the road's center line, when possible, to create the cushion.
"It puts in writing what seems to be a pretty standard practice around here," Blair Bicycle Club President Scott Woomer of Altoona said Friday. "But there are exceptions, and drivers can get impatient waiting for a safe place to pass."
The new law, signed Feb. 2 by Gov. Tom Corbett, also requires drivers who are making left turns to yield the right of way to oncoming bicyclists and drivers who are making right turns must yield to bicyclists proceeding straight.
The law also spells out that bicyclists must use all reasonable efforts to avoid impeding the normal flow of traffic.
"The differential in speed is the biggest safety challenge with motor vehicles and bicycles sharing our state's roadways," PennDOT Secretary Barry J. Schoch said. "I urge all drivers and cyclists to learn the rules of the road to better share our highways and make travel safer for all."
Violators face a summary offense citation, which carries a $25 fine plus costs, PennDOT spokesman Wayne Mears said Friday.
Woomer said the new rules will likely draw some attention to bicycle safety, which is good.
"But there are always going to be people who don't pay attention," he said.
He also said that the timing of the legislation may be beneficial.
"With the gas prices going up, I'm thinking there's going to be a lot more bicyclists out there," Woomer said.
State Rep. Ron Miller, R-York County, introduced the bill in 2011 as part of a transportation safety package. When signed into law in February, Miller urged cooperation.
"Bicycle safety is dependent on both parties having respect for the other," Miller said. "Some motorists will try to get as close to bicyclists as possible in order to make a statement, because of a belief that they don't belong on the road, which is not the case."
Pennsylvania is the 20th state to require motorists to give bicyclists a wide margin when passing, according to Gene Bisbee of Seattle, who tracks legislative changes and posts them at www.bikingbis.com.