On Wednesday, March 21, the State House passed two of LMB's bicycle safety bills. HB 4265, our safe passing bill, was approved 106-2, while HB 4198, driver's education improvement legislation, was approved 98-10.
The passing of the driver's education improvement bill is a huge victory for the bicycling community. Introduced by Representative Julie Alexander, this legislation would require at least one hour of driver's education classroom instruction to include laws pertaining to bicycles, motorcycles, and other vulnerable roadway users, including pedestrians. The bill would further require driver's education instruction to incorporate bicycles, motorcycles, and other vulnerable roadway users into other subject areas of the driver's education curriculum.
The approval of the safe passing law, introduced by Representative Holly Hughes, is also a significant victory, though one that came with compromise. At the time the bill was introduced many members of the House were not interested in establishing a 5-foot passing requirement. LMB, as well as many partners and members of the bicycling community, faced an uphill battle and fought hard to keep the conversation going by educating House members on the issue.
Throughout the process, various amendments were proposed in committee that could have actually made things worse for bicyclists, despite the intent of the legislation. Suggestions included amendments that removed a specific numerical distance entirely from the law, while another modified it to be five feet from the edge of the road, not five feet from the cyclist. One proposal made the passing law seasonal, while another pushed to exempt drivers from having to safely pass if the cyclist was in a bike lane. Additionally, there was support for language that gave drivers two warnings before receiving points for a violation.
LMB fought ardently against these changes. After defeating the worst of the worst of these amendments, the amendment from a 5-foot requirement to a 3-foot requirement was a difficult but tolerable concession. Since three feet is the national standard that 28 other states enacted, LMB acknowledged that 5-feet was a tall ask, especially since many lawmakers and the Michigan State Police pushed to leave a distance out of the legislation entirely.
LMB is very concerned, however, about language added in committee that creates an exception to allow drivers to pass at a "safe distance" and "safe speed" if 3-feet is not “practicable.” Despite pushing to have it removed, the exception remains in the legislation passed by the House. This confusing exception opens the door to interpretation by drivers, law enforcement, and judges. It complicates education efforts and conflicts with the spirit of the legislation.
The alternative to accepting these compromises, was to watch the safe passing bill die completely, meaning Michigan would remain one of only 11 states with no safe passing law. LMB has advocated for a safe passing law for four years now, and while this version of the legislation is certainly not our dream bill, it is one that we believe can be built upon in future legislative sessions. Despite the unwanted exception language, the legislation is an important step forward to help educate the public about safely sharing the road.
Representative Hoadley of Kalamazoo, made the following floor speech,
“Bicyclist safety is incredibly important. In response, a number of local communities passed local passing ordinances that set reasonable and safe limits distances. I plan to support the legislation today. I hope it’s the start of a conversation that is about why we need to make sure bicycle safety is integrated at all levels our motor code. I was pleased to see that we are putting this in parts of education; that we are giving it the recognition that it deserves, but I also hope that we can continue the conversation about what is appropriate passage. In my community, we called for five feet and we passed a number of local ordinances to do that. This new statewide standard will lower it to three. But I think the compromise of making sure that no matter where you are in the state, that bicyclists will have safe passage is a worthy goal.”
Getting a safe passing bill voted out of the House was indeed a monumental win. This, coupled with the success in passing the driver’s ed improvement legislation, opens the door for future bicycle-friendly legislation to be taken seriously. LMB will continue to fight to ensure that the strongest possible versions of these bills reach the Governor’s desk to help prevent needless tragedies on Michigan’s roadways.
The bills were referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which previously passed Senate versions of the driver's education legislation and safe passing with a 5-foot provision. If passed by the Senate and signed into law by the Governor, the legislation would go into effect August 2019.
Thank you to all who supported us in this fight. Please be ready to join us once again in the next stage of moving this legislation forward.