Update on HB 1030, passing a bike

by Tony Helland

Discussion and comments last Thursday in the House Transportation Committee on House Bills 1030 and 1032 was vast and brought up some really great points and perspectives. The outcomes for these two bill, however, was quite different. HB1030 – covering the passing of bicycles – had action deferred until this Tuesday in order to find better language. HB1032 – addressing pedestrian crossings – was unfortunately tabled in committee.

Committee testimony on HB1030 began with Bill Nevin, legal council with the SDDOT. In describing the importance of this bill, Nevin made it very clear that a bicycle is unique in terms of its size, speed, and weight in relation to larger and heavier automobiles. This is important when discussing the need for a law focusing on the passing of these smaller, person-powered road vehicles. For the bicyclist, a passing motorized vehicle poses a great threat. This is not only due to automobile speed but also the perceived risk to safety for the bicyclist. Passing this law, with its “three-foot rule” make sense to combat this safety issue. Nevin also offered the jarring statistics that since 2002, 1,155 injuries and 4 deaths have occurred in automobile vs. bicycle incidents.

Nevin also tackled the effectiveness of the state’s current “safe distance” terminology, which would be replaced by a three-foot separation with 1030’s passage. He made the case that the phrase “safe distance” is vague and its definition is subjective. One traveler’s perception of what a safe distance is may differ greatly from another interpretation. The use of the objectively quantifiable three-foot separation is clear and makes known to drivers what is expected.

Further testimony involved laws enacted in other states across the nation as well as the economic value of bicycle friendliness. Chris Parsley, a cycling instructor certified by the League of American Bicyclists, mirrored much of SDDOT’s testimony. He also offered up that 25 US states have laws that codify at least a three foot separation with a couple having a four foot separation on the books. This type of law is a growing trend as more and more people are opting to bike in lieu of auto travel. In terms of economics, Jessica Andrews Giard of Chamberlain, presented the value a state may encounter while being perceived as “bicycle-friendly.” This value could mean dollars, as Andrews Giard states, if South Dakota is able to build up bicycle tourism, as has been seen in other states.

Rep. Fred Deutsch (R-9/Florence) then proved to some, while giving spoken testimony, that the legislature does have a comedic pulse. Deutsch, an avid cyclist, attempted to wear his bright yellow bicycle helmet as a means to put a face to the cyclists of South Dakota. He was quickly stopped and reminded that the committee has rules against the use of props.

A possible amendment to HB1030, forwarded by Steve Hickey (R-9/Sioux Falls), would insert the words “a minimum of a” to precede the phrase “three foot separation.” This addresses the often need to give more room while passing a bicyclist.

Action on HB1030 has been deferred until Tuesday, January 27th.

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