Pedaling Protections

Photo by Shannon McGowan of her bike in Warrenton, Virginia

Feeling a Little Safer Thanks to Virginia’s New Bicycle Laws

Most of us in our region had some beautiful bike-riding weather this past Fourth of July Weekend. I for one found myself whizzing through some of the winding farm-view roads of Warrenton, Virginia. The usual feelings of peace and joy swept over me as I watched my shadow cast on tall golden grass and the sunshine through the passing barns, fences, and cattle. At least until my riding partner called out, “Car back!”

With those words, I once again was brought back into the familiar worry of sharing the road with cars. Every time I hear a car coming up behind me, I think of all the biker friends I know who have been accidentally hit or run off the road. Sometimes a car is friendly enough to give cyclists a lot of room when passing, and sometimes, they zoom past with what feels like only inches in between.   

To my surprise, the driver of this car gave us an entire lane as they passed us, after patiently waiting for a straightaway that offered a clear view of the road ahead. My partner and I thanked the driver with a nod and a wave, as we always do when a motorist respects our safety.  

This motorist was not only making us feel safe while sharing the road, they were also abiding by one of the new laws the General Assembly passed this month in Virginia. As of July 1st, motorists are required to change lanes when passing cyclists if the lane of travel is not wide enough to accommodate three feet of distance. 

The changes brought about by the Bicyclist Safety Act also allows bicyclists to ride two abreast in hopes of improving visibility and space between cyclists and motorists. It is also thought to decrease the amount of time it takes for a car to pass a large group of cyclists by decreasing the length of the group.  

For the rest of the bike ride that day, almost every car that passed us gave a full lane as we biked side by side. Knowing that I wasn’t the only one on the road that day thinking about my safety really made a difference in the overall experience.

According to the Virginia DMV, there were 560 bicycle crashes reported in 2020 with eight deaths, which was lower than numbers from 2019. Raising awareness on bike safety and advocating for changes like the Bicyclist Safety Act is how we can continue to decrease the number of accidents out on the road and make cyclists, just like me, feel more supported and safer out there.  

You can do your part by spreading the word on the new laws and sharing this story with the motorists and cyclists in your life. 

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