On Wednesday, the Wyoming House of Representatives gave initial approval to a bill that would require motorists to give bicyclists at least 3 feet of distance while passing them. The bill comes after a year marked by five bicyclist fatalities, including one locally.
In Sheridan last June, a woman drove her vehicle into two cyclists who were traveling on Coffeen Avenue near Sheridan College. One cyclist was killed and the other was seriously injured.
The law being proposed would not have protected the couple affected by that crash. Law enforcement officers have said the driver charged in connection with the incident was driving impaired. She had told officers she was taking two narcotic medications at the time. Even had the 3-foot law been in place at the time, the driver was allegedly too impaired to follow it.
So how do you protect cyclists?
The answer likely isn’t a new law, though that makes all of us feel like we’re doing something to help prevent future accidents. Enforcement and education about existing laws would prove the most effective.
Most motorists, and many cyclists, don’t understand that those on bicycles have the same rights and responsibilities as every other driver on the road. A more targeted public education drive would likely help solve much of the confusion and misperceptions about bicycles and motorists.
Other such public education efforts have been tried. Billboards throughout the state in recent years told drivers to “Look twice — Save a life.” The campaign was meant to lower the number of motorcycle accidents that occur.
The Wyoming Meth Project has also made a significant impact in the state. Since June 2008, the project has sustained a large-scale prevention campaign that includes TV, radio, Internet and billboard advertisements. According to the project’s website, the prevention program has had significant impacts on teens’ attitudes about meth.
The results include statistics like 87 percent of respondents saying that the ads showed meth to be more dangerous to try than they thought. It also showed that 91 percent of respondents to a survey said if somebody they knew were thinking about trying meth, they’d want him or her to see one of the project’s ads. Putting in place a new rule regarding giving space to bicyclists will likely have little effect on the number of fatalities that occur. A powerful, focused and statewide education campaign explaining the rules of the road would be much more significant, but it takes more than putting pen to paper to make it happen. It takes capital and a driving force to see it through.