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Summerville Journal Scene: Keep an eye for cyclists: New laws serve to protect them

Published September 21, 2012

By John Hayes

These days, more and more of us are choosing healthier lifestyles and showing a greater interest in walking, running, and biking. Now for the bad news — with increased vehicle traffic on the roads and distracted driving on the rise, a simple walk, run, or bike have become more dangerous. In an effort to make the roads safer for all, drivers should be aware of both their rights and their legal obligations when encountering bicyclists.

Historically, bicyclists have had the same rights and obligations as motorists.  This is contrary to many misconceptions that motorists have. One such misconception is that bicyclists should use sidewalks or bike paths when available instead of roadways.  Bicyclists can travel in groups of 50 or more and at speeds sometimes in excess of 30 mph.  With that potential for speed and grouping, the only safe place is the roadway.  In fact, many municipalities have ordinances prohibiting bicyclists from using the sidewalk.

On June 10th, 2008, then Governor Mark Sanford signed into law the Bicycle Safety Act (H3006), giving bicyclists expanded rights and placing additional obligations upon motorists. According to this law, “a driver of a motor vehicle must at all times maintain a safe operating distance between the motor vehicle and a bicycle.”  This provision places the responsibility on the driver of a motor vehicle, meaning that the driver has a duty to anticipate activity on the roadway and assume a safe passing distance. There should always be a safe distance between the motorist and the bicyclist, and the motorist should avoid passing too closely, which could startle the cyclist and lead to a crash.

Another important aspect of this law reads, “It is unlawful to harass, taunt, or maliciously throw an object at or in the direction of any person riding a bicycle.”  Many bicyclists have been permanently injured when crashing due to verbal harassment, or from projectiles thrown by passing cars.  Even if the bicyclist is not hit with the object, the driver may be forced to serve 30 days in jail.

Drivers should understand that their car, truck, or SUV is comparable to a bulldozer when encountering a bicyclist on the roadway. With that kind of force, there is just no room for mistakes.  So be safe out there, and keep an eye out for cyclists.

John Hayes is an attorney with Clore Law Group in Charleston, S.C.  He can be reached at john@clorelaw.com or by calling 1-800-610-2546.

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