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How many more tragedies before cyclist-safety laws are enforced?

A bicycle lies on the ground at the scene of a crash in Atwater. The driver of a pick up truck drifted onto the shoulder of the road and struck an adult male rider.
A bicycle lies on the ground at the scene of a crash in Atwater. The driver of a pick up truck drifted onto the shoulder of the road and struck an adult male rider. akuhn@mercedsun-star.com

Modesto police Sgt. Michael Pershall was killed a few weeks ago while riding his bicycle. Whenever a cyclist is killed, we fellow cyclists feel it deeply. We know it could be any of us.

Though I didn’t know Sgt. Pershall, all the news articles and reporting showed he was a good person and will be missed. He deserves all the tributes he has received.

But Sgt. Pershall wasn’t the first cyclist killed by a motorist around Modesto, and he won’t be the last.

So why did his death lead to all the coverage when other cyclists aren’t covered? Because he was a police officer.

What about all the moms, dads, sons and daughters whose lives have ended while riding their bikes? Why aren’t their lives celebrated? Or better protected?

Does it take having law enforcement losing one of their own to motivate them to better enforce the laws that protect cyclists? We need better protections for cyclists.

No law would have protected Sgt. Pershall from a drunken driver – except putting the offender in jail after his previous offenses. But there is a law which is routinely violated and which puts cyclists at risk – and I have yet to hear of anyone being cited for it.

It’s called the 3-foot law. Motorists must not come within 3 feet (including their mirrors) of a cyclist while passing.

My experience is that most drivers aren’t aware of this law and some would rather endanger cyclists’ lives than have to cross double-yellow lines or wait to pass a cyclist safely. I realize drivers cannot be cited unless an officer actually witnesses a violation, but what about when a motorist actually strikes a cyclist?

I know of motorists who have drifted onto the shoulder or made turns in front of cyclists, causing serious injuries. The law says that if you strike a cyclist and injure them, it’s a $225 fine – which is paltry. Yet, I’m not aware of any driver being cited. Why not?

The purpose of the law is not to punish drivers; it’s to make drivers aware of the danger of passing too closely to a cyclist. If drivers are not being cited for hitting cyclists, then there is no benefit to having the law.

Why aren’t these motorists being cited?

I know many motorists will respond to this, sharing their bad experiences with errant cyclists. Here is my reply in advance: Yes, some cyclists break laws and put themselves at risk. This is irrelevant to enforcement of the 3-foot law. The law should be enforced.

When a cyclist violates a law, it puts only them at risk ‑ not so with motorists.

Raymond Prevost is a Modesto resident, avid cyclist and former professional photographer. He wrote this for The Modesto Bee.

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