Even when drivers and bike riders appear to be sharing the road safely and respectfully, dangers for serious and deadly injuries to the bicyclists exist. Riders can do much to prevent crashes by keeping left or staying in bike lanes, obeying traffic laws, wearing helmets and reflective clothing, and using lights at night. Those precautions only do so much, however, when drivers fail to leave enough space when moving around slower-moving bike riders and when failing to check their mirrors and blind spots after parking and before opening their vehicle doors.
Virginia recently updated its law on passing bicyclist to mandate a minimum of three feet between the passing vehicle and the slower bike. The three-foot rule also applies to passing mopeds, electric wheelchairs, horses and animal-drawn carriages. It exists for two primary reasons.
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First, a vehicle generates a powerful rush of wind as it moves forward. That gust gains in power as the vehicle’s speed increases, and getting hit by a burst of air can easily knock over a bicycle or moped. A second major concern is that drivers have a poor sense of how close objects are to the right side of their vehicle. The farther they move over when passing, the less likely they are to hit the person they are moving around.
To emphasize this second point, Virginia Beach’s webpage on state and city bicycle laws reminds drivers to pass at a reasonable speed and to wait “until safely clear of the bicycle” before moving back to the right. Translated into what drivers must do, the advice is to check the rearview mirror, passenger’s side mirror and blind spot to ensure the lane is clear.
Drivers must also get into the habit of performing such a scan after they park along a street, especially in places with dedicated bike lanes. Opening driver’s side doors directly in the path of bicycles has become such a problem in Virginia’s larger cities that state lawmakers enacted a statute to penalize what is called “dooring.” Section 46.2-818.1 of the Virginia Code makes it a ticketable offense to “open the door of a parked motor vehicle on the side adjacent to moving vehicular traffic unless it is reasonably safe to do so.”
A bicyclist who gets doored will almost always fly over his or her handlebars and land head-first on the pavement. No one needs to be a Virginia personal injury lawyer, health care professional, or doored bike rider to know that head injuries to bicyclists often produce long-term disabilities and deaths. Looking out for bicyclists takes only a second, but that second can protect, or even save, a life.