Sharing the road with cyclists takes some extra precaution on behalf of drivers. Although safety often comes down to simple courtesy, Oklahoma cyclists will have a new layer of protection beginning Nov. 1.
House Bill 2453, one of three new traffic laws pertaining to cyclists going into effect next month, sets a written clarification of the correct distance for drivers to maintain while passing cyclists on the roadway.
While the provisions in the bill are generally routine practices for most individuals, Rep. Tammy Townley, R-Ardmore said the bill helps redefine the rules so that violators may be more easily cited.
"I did vote for these because we do have to keep our cyclists safe," Townley said. "Not everybody drives with caution. You’ve got people who think that them getting to where ever they have to go is way more important than keeping someone on the side of the road safe."
Under HB 2453, drivers are required to move to the left lane when passing a cyclist on a road with more than one lane for traffic proceeding in the same direction. If there is only one lane for traffic proceeding in the same direction, the driver has to maintain a distance of no less than three feet between any part of the motor vehicle and any part of the bicycle or its operator.
Local attorney and Ardmore Cycling Club member Brent Bahner frequents the roads of Southern Oklahoma often. The new law is simply a reminder that cyclists and motorists should practice mutual respect, Bahner said.
"The cyclist is a vehicle on the road just like a car or a motorcycle and a cyclist has to obey the rules of the road just like a car or motorcycle has to," Banner said. "These rules are trying — the three feet rule and that type of thing — is an effort to put a number on how much distance a car should give a cyclist."
During his nearly three years as Carter County Sheriff, Chris Bryant said he has not seen any incidents where a cyclist has been hit or injured by a motor vehicle.
There are, of course, going to be exceptions where motorists do not show cyclists respect, Bahner said. However, the local Southern Oklahoma area has generally been a wonderful place for him to ride.
"There’s fools out there that will buzz near or yell and throw things. But for the most part, I’ve enjoyed a good 40 years on the road around here," Bahner said. "From Ardmore, you can go southeast and ride around Lake Murray and down into Love County and over into Marshall County. Those folks are very amenable, very pleasant to deal with."
Some of Bahner’s favorite spots to ride are along Southwest Ardmore where the trails are fairly flat. However there are areas the local cyclists avoid, such as the stretch between the Dolese plant and the interstate, due to high traffic.
In addition to the new law establishing safe passing practices, HB 1265 creates a new definition and applies a few new rules for electric-assisted bicycles. E-Bikes are now legally considered as bicycles with "fully operative pedals for human propulsion and equipped with an electric motor with a power output of not more than 750 watts".
"Because of the moped, I’m thinking they’re wanting to say that people can have it on the streets," Townley said. "It does create a little portion of new law. So basically it puts them underneath — kind of like a motorcycle."
Any electric-assisted bike that reaches a speed of 28 mph can not be ridden on a bicycle or multiple-use path unless it is adjacent to the road and must be equipped with a speedometer, according to the new bill. However, no licensing or insurance is required to ride an electric-assisted bike.
The last of the three new traffic laws, HB 2454, allows cyclists to proceed through a red light when it is safe. This was already in the law for motorcycles, Townley said. HB 2454 simply applies the same rules for cyclists.
The bill specifies that the driver of a motorcycle or bicycle may only proceed through a red light if the motorcycle or bicycle has first been brought to a full stop, the traffic light has failed to detect the motorcycle or bicycle due to its size or weight, and no other motor vehicle is approaching.
While the new traffic laws help provide clarification on rules some may or may not have already practiced, for the most part, Bahner said it really comes down to being a good citizen and treating others on the roadway with respect.
"We don’t have fenders and bumpers and roofs on us, so if we get hit it’s going to be bad," Bahner said. "So we would certainly appreciate them looking out for us just like they look out for motorcycles. There’s a lot of road out there and there’s plenty of room for all of us. We can all enjoy a good time together."