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Spring is time for cyclists, motorists to be patient

The Athens Banner-Herald: In The Spotlight: Spring is time for cyclists, motorists to be patient

By JUDD SMITH
Published Thursday, March 8, 2012

Things are starting to bloom, warm weather is on its way, and Daylight Saving Time is just around the corner. So, other than allergies, what does spring bring out? Cyclists!

Less than a year ago, the Georgia General Assembly passed a law clarifying and expanding rules related to cyclists on public roads. The law now requires that motorists move over at least three feet when passing a bike. Quite frankly, that’s not much when a car is traveling 30, 40 or 50 mph. Keep in mind that every time you buzz past a cyclist within a few feet at 50 mph, and they are following the law, you’re only an arm’s length from facing a homicide by vehicle charge.

I realize that every time an incident involving a bicycle and a motor vehicle occurs, it seems to bring out the venom in both camps, but I think everyone should sit back and take a deep breath before passing judgment.

I’ll admit I might be a little biased in one direction, because I am a cyclist — as are quite of few of my friends and coworkers. Regardless, let’s take an objective look at the conflict between drivers and riders.

One of the biggest complaints I hear from motorists about cyclists is that they are blocking the road and slowing them down. Does this happen? You bet. But keep in mind that the law does allows bikers to ride two wide. Most of the riders I know are courteous enough to ride single file, unless they’re on a road where passing is not a problem.

The fact is that both cyclists and drivers need to be more courteous. A good rule of thumb is to imagine that everyone you pass on the road, whether in a car or on a bike, is a family member.

My guess is that if you actually timed how long you are inconvenienced by someone riding a bicycle, you’ll find the delay is something like 15 to 30 seconds. If you can’t afford to be held up for 60 seconds to get where you are going, you probably should have left a little earlier.

And if you can’t manage to pass a biker without yelling or making some gesture, you should probably reconsider whether you should be piloting a multi-ton metal box at 60 mph down our public roads. You should know that gestures made from behind the wheel can lead to an aggressive driving charge, which can be costly.

Remember, it’s your legal obligation to pass a bicycle with care, just as if you were passing another car.

The second most common complaint I hear is that bicyclists should be taxed to keep up the roads. Frankly, I don’t know of a single biker who doesn’t own a car and buy at least some gas. Yes, most cyclists — at least in the more rural areas — are recreational riders. But you should be careful what you wish for. Perhaps the public roads should be used primarily for non-recreational transportation related to business and commerce, and drivers should pay an additional tax on miles driven recreationally. Talking about taxation can be a slippery slope.

Thankfully, the vast majority of cyclists and drivers are basically good people with good intentions. I’ve been riding for years and have only had a couple of bad encounters with motorists. The bottom line is that — with the exception of interstate highways — cars, bikes and pedestrians are all legal on our roads. A very wise man once told me that in this life you can do anything you want — as long as you are prepared to handle the consequences. So let’s all try to be a little more careful out there.

• Judd Smith is a captain in the Winterville Police Department and a lieutenant with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.