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What will it take to make roads safe for cyclists: is it dedicated bike lanes? Better driver education? A “complete streets” approach to communities? According to Ohio state legislators, it will take at least three feet.

Starting with House Bill 154, which passed in December and became effective in March 2017, vehicle operators must now give pedal-powered two-wheelers wider berth when passing on public roads across the state—thirty-six inches to be exact.

While this type of law might be new to Ohio, the concept of “safe passing” has been around since 1973 when Wisconsin became the first state to enact such legislation. While most states do have some form of a safe-passing law, Ohio is one of only thirty-one states to mandate a specific distance. Taking effect with the onset of cycling season, this new law dictates a 3-foot cushion for those on a bicycle being overtaken by a motorized vehicle. Think of an adult rider extending an arm straight out toward the road’s center line; this is the zone of which cars and trucks need to steer clear.

So, is such a law effective in preventing bicycle accidents on our roadways? Many say yes. While not necessarily resulting in drivers being ticketed for an offense, safe-passing laws that specify a certain distance can help to raise awareness of a safety standard while creating a legal framework for those who have been injured on their bike by a driver’s actions. While the passage of this legislation should be viewed as a victory, it should not be taken as a final fix. It’s important to remember that you can have the best intentions, but the benefit is in the implementation. This is illustrated with a past blog where I discussed the use of trailer side guards for trucks to prevent serious injury or death to cyclists who impact the side of a truck. While comparatively inexpensive and relatively easy to install, this simple modification has been slow to gain traction in the U.S.

Ultimately, the takeaway here is that positive results require that we all take action: lawmakers need to continue with the creation of safety-focused legislation, drivers need to be more aware of those on bicycles while giving them room to operate safely, and cyclists themselves need to recognize their vulnerability and always be proactive while pedaling. It is by working together that we can move toward this shared goal of safety for all those who use our streets.

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