Tuesday, July 22, 2008

More Law on Our Side

New Hampshire has just passed its version of a "three-foot law" requiring motorists to give at least that much clearance when passing cyclists. Drivers of any motor vehicle are also supposed to add a foot to that clearance for each increment of 10 miles per hour above 30.

What do you, the cyclist do about the driver who blatantly disregards the law? Not much. But at least the driver, if apprehended, might face more charges than under the previous laws. If you happen to have sympathetic police nearby when an incident occurs, they have specific statutes with which to charge an aggressive driver.

An article in the Concord Monitor
gives details of the new law. These include making it legal for a cyclist to pass a stationary vehicle on the right. I never knew it was illegal for a cyclist to do that. I just knew it was stupid. Now it is legal, but it remains stupid.

Last Sunday was the Day of the Death Hole in Wolfe City. On the ride home I had two drivers stop after passing me so I could pass them on their right before they turned right. Ordinarily I make a showy point of avoiding the Death Hole, but both times these drivers had pulled out to the middle of the road, blocking safe passage to the left, and ambushed me so that I had no time to bring my heavy rain bike to a halt to force them to clear the intersection. I had to trust them.

Trusting motorists is the second biggest cause of nasty crashes. Riding against traffic is the first. Since riding against traffic is the most egregious form of trusting motorists, you could say that trusting motorists is the single biggest cause of nasty crashes.

When traffic is stopped, as in Wolfe City all summer long, and North Conway during summer and winter tourist seasons, cyclists are forced to ride to the right of the whole string of sense-deprived prisoners of internal combustion. That was how I got a car door driven muscle-deep into my LEFT leg one summer day. Whenever you pass a vehicle on its right be extra cautious. I've seen young heroes blast through that gap at criterium speeds to prove their superiority to the gridlocked masses. You don't look superior when you're lying on the ground bleeding. You look like the fool they think you are. Don't give them the satisfaction.

"Let's run down there and each get us one of them cows," said the young bull to the old bull.

"Let's walk down and get 'em all," answered the elder.

Many times, slower is better. You'll still be faster than someone essentially parked in the travel lane. You'll look even cooler if you aren't all breathless and sweaty.

Aside from legalizing the Death Hole, New Hampshire's new legislation should help cycling in the state by creating a false sense of security in new riders so that they ride long enough to get acclimated. A larger legal footprint gives bicycling a bigger chunk of the drivers' handbook and greater claim to public consciousness. We're more of a protected species. Just remember that a car windshield at 65 miles per hour does not know the difference between a common wasp and an endangered Karner Blue butterfly.

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