Despite our best efforts to stay in front of all the cycling and transportation-related bills at the legislature this session, one managed to sneak away.
Senate Bill 895 seeks to strengthen and clarify Oregon Revised Statute 811.420, the law that governs passing obstructions in no passing zones. Specifically, the bill would require drivers to slow down when passing an obstruction on their right and would amend the definition of obstruction to include someone riding a bicycle or any other person in a vehicle that’s traveling at a much slower speed.
The bill’s chief sponsor is Eugene-area Democrat Floyd Prozanski (D-4). (Those of you who’ve followed bike advocacy in Oregon for a while might recall that this is the same lawmaker who passed Oregon’s current bicycle safe passing law back in 2007.) According to the Oregon Legislative Information Service (OLIS), Sen. Prozanski introduced the bill on behalf of two constituents: Richard Hughes and Doug Parrow. Parrow is not just any Oregonian, he is the former chair of The Street Trust’s legislative committee (back when they had one and were known as the Bicycle Transportation Alliance) and he was a board member of the nonprofit for 13 years. Parrow resigned from The Street Trust in 2010.
The problem Parrow and other backers of this bill are trying to solve is that many drivers — as many police officers — are not aware that crossing over the centerline to pass a bicycle rider is actually already legal. Oregon’s bicycle safe passing law (ORS 811.065) states that, “The driver of a motor vehicle may drive to the left of the center of a roadway to pass a person operating a bicycle proceeding in the same direction.”
But Parrow and others worry that people don’t understand the law and that current ODOT and Department of Motor Vehicle training materials lack clarity. They feel this leads to dangerous passes and/or anger toward bicycle riders.
“The lack of clarity is endangering bicyclists,” Parrow shared with members of the Judiciary Committee (which Prozanski chairs) at a public hearing for the bill on March 8th. “Some motorists have cited the ‘prohibition’ on crossing the centerline as the reason that they have passed bicyclists too closely. Other motorists have followed too closely and otherwise harassed bicyclists instead of safely passing.”
The problem is particularly acute on low-traffic, rural roads where no passing zones can stretch for miles. This means automobile drivers are presented with a quandary: follow behind the bicycle rider(s) for a long time, commit what they think is an illegal move, or make a dangerous pass. SB 895 would make the no passing zone law more explicit when it comes to bicycle riders and Parrow says it should prompt ODOT and the DMV to update its driver education materials accordingly.
Another provision in SB 895 would require people to drive at least five miles under the speed limit while making the pass.
“The bill will just put common sense back into to the law,” said bike advocate Richard Hughes at the public hearing.
SB 895 passed out of the Judiciary Committee on March 20th by a vote of 4-0 (with one excused) and is now on the Senate floor.
Check out the bill overview on OLIS.