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House committee pumps the brakes on bike bill

Deseret News: House committee pumps the brakes on bike bill

HB91 would’ve given cyclists the ability to legally run red lights and stop signs

By Laura Hancock
Deseret News
Published: Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2010 10:46 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would allow cyclists to ride through red lights after stopping and checking for traffic was voted down by the House Transportation Committee on Tuesday.

HB91, sponsored by Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Salt Lake City, also calls for cyclists to only slow down when approaching stop signs, then cautiously proceed after checking for traffic.

The bill, modelled on a 26-year-old Idaho law, failed in the committee because there was a tie, with six representatives voting in favor and six against. But that doesn’t mean the bill is dead. After the vote, Moss said she’ll continue talking to the cycling community, which was mixed in its support of the bill.

For cyclists, the most dangerous activity in an intersection is when they start to go after having dismounted from their bikes. Cyclists have to get up to high speeds quickly and risk being hit by traffic.

"If they’re riding early in the morning and they come to a stop light, because their weight is not enough to trigger the sensors, they can sit there for a long time," Moss said.

"It really comes down to common sense, I think, the fact that this would make it legal to do what many cyclists do already, and the public would then be educated," Moss said. "As much as they say they should behave and they’re the same as cars, they’re not. A car is not the same as a bike. That’s why we have bicycle lanes."

But some legislators questioned liability and fairness.

"Say a bicyclist stops at a light, looks both ways and then heads across and he’s hit," said Rep. Stephen Clark, R-Provo, who ultimately voted in favor of the bill. "Who’s at fault?"

Greg Hoole, an attorney and cyclist, said the bill requires cyclists to be cautious when proceeding through an intersection.

"If he’s hit, presumably, that would mean the cyclist failed to observe oncoming traffic," Hoole said.

Rep. Steven R. Mascaro, R-West Jordan, said in the case of accidents, there would be lawsuits over fault.

"It was interesting, the choice of words to the question of who would be at fault and to understand the circumstances, you said, ’presumably,’ " said Mascaro, who voted against the bill. "I think that would be a rebuttal assumption."

Rep. Tim Cosgrove, D-Murray, who voted against the bill, said the liability will be with drivers.

"All things being equal, the burden of proof is on the motor vehicle operator because they’re required to carry liability insurance. So if something happens and someone’s hurt, they’re covered. Under this, bicyclists aren’t required to carry insurance."

The bills’ supporters believe HB91 is a way to reward folks who choose to cycle, which keeps cars off the road and decreases pollution. Cycling could also be a solution to the country’s obesity epidemic.

"People have to make adjustments for themselves," said Rep. Janice Fisher, D-West Valley City, who voted for the bill. "Bicycle riders are not going to pull out in front of a car to (purposely) get hit and sue somebody. That’s just not common sense."