BY ALEXANDER SMITH
Capital News Service
LANSING — Bicyclists may be safer when riding on Michigan roads if new driver’s education bills are passed by the Legislature.
The proposals would require vehicles to be at least 5 feet away when passing a cyclist and create harsher penalties for injuring or killing a rider. They would also require three hours of instruction on bicycle and motorcycle awareness as part of driver’s education.
According to the Office of Highway Safety Planning, crashes between motorists and bicyclists rose 57 percent from 2014 to 2015. Between Jan. 1 and Aug. 30 this year, 18 bicyclists died from crashes with vehicles.
Some cities have local laws about how close a car can pass a bicyclist, but according to bill sponsor Sen. Margaret O’Brien, R-Portage, a state law needs to set a uniform standard.
“We’ve seen 3 feet, we’ve seen 5 feet, we’ve seen nothing at all,” O’Brien said. “It creates a patchwork of laws that confuses drivers and expects them to know how the laws change between municipalities.”
Many people don’t know bicyclists have an equal right to be on the road, O’Brien said. One of the bills would make that clear by adding safe road-sharing in the additional three hours of driver’s education.
Not everyone agrees with adding class time. The Secretary of State does not support the legislation due to the potential costs, according to Fred Woodhams, the communications manager.
“Drivers education courses are 24 hours at a minimum, so if you’re adding hours to that, you’re cutting out other critical components or you’re expanding hours and increasing the costs to parents,” Woodhams said. “As you increase the cost, that will result in fewer teens taking driver’s ed, waiting until they turn 18 to take the driver’s test and not going through driver’s ed at all.”
The curriculum already dedicates two hours to sharing the road, Woodhams said.
Cyclists have the same right to use public roads, but sidewalks are often much safer, said Julie Baesch, co-owner of City Bike Shop in Traverse City.
“I think sometimes we bikers want exactly the same rights as cars, but we really shouldn’t be riding in some places,” Baesch said.
Still, drivers shouldn’t think bicyclists don’t belong on public streets, said David Bucholtz, the store manager of McLain Cycle & Fitness in Traverse City.
“I think bikes should be able to go everywhere. Should we have our own bike lanes off to the side? Absolutely, but motorists should learn that I pay taxes too, I have the right to be there too. If it means slowing them down a little bit and they have to give me a wider berth, well gosh golly, I’m sorry, but it’s for our safety,” he said.
Bucholtz, an avid group rider, said he hopes the bills will boost awareness.
Ignorant drivers are a common danger to his team, he said.
“No accidents yet but there’s always a close call, there’s always some sort of exchange with a motorist who will tell us we shouldn’t be on the road or ask why aren’t we on the sidewalk,” Bucholtz said. “It’s a usual occurrence.”
The bills have been reported by the Senate Judiciary Committee but have not yet been scheduled for a vote by the full Senate.
BY ALEXANDER SMITH