New Suffolk County Law Establishes 'Safe Distance' Between Bikes And Cars
Suffolk County became the first county in New York to enforce a law designating three feet as the safe distance for motorists to pass cyclists on the road.
Cyclists and lawmakers said the state’s vehicle traffic law is ambiguous in its definition of a “safe distance,” which makes it more difficult to issue violations. Violations of the county’s new law can lead to fines of $225 for the first offense, and up to $425 for subsequent offenses. Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn, the sponsor of the law, said it’s passage is an important step for the state.
“We want to make the roads safe for all vulnerable users, and quite frankly, for drivers and cars as well,” Hahn said. “If people know that they have to give a cyclist three feet, everyone will be safer.”
Daniel Flanzig, a personal injury lawyer and a board member of the New York Bicycle Coalition, described the law as a “gamechanger” for enforceability and compliance.
"When we talk about any other legislation affecting cyclists the one single ask, for the coalition when we’ve done polls, has been absolutely ‘why does the state not have that law?’” Flanzig said.
Thirty-three states in the U.S. designate at least a three-foot distance between drivers and bicyclists. Monroe County will be the second county in New York to consider the law. “The idea is to get the wave going throughout the state,” Flanzig said.
Paul Miklean, a member of the Suffolk Bicycle Riders Association, said he hopes that the law will make driver’s think about cyclists' safety more seriously.
“Getting some kind of exposure about bicyclists, and the fact that there is a law saying that you need to stay three feet away, versus the casualness with which very often drivers regard bicyclists,” Miklean said. “We’re out of their mind. We are not part of their mindset. So getting that is a good thing.”
Hal Tarry, a member of the New York Bicycling Coalition, said he was hit a few years ago by a driver while riding his bicycle. Cycling relaxes him, but that calm is broken when a motorist gets too close.
“Often they see you, but they just see a bicycle and that’s common, so they forget about it and they go back to whatever they were thinking about and they no longer really see you,” Tarry said. “Then sometimes they drift over a little and get closer.”
The law was signed at the Stony Brookside Bed & Bike Inn, a bed and breakfast in Stony Brook that offers bicycle rentals and nearby tours.
“Oftentimes when you’re on the road there are obstructions in the road and you’ll need to avoid something, whether it be gravel or a grate, or glass or a curb,” said Elyse Buckman, one of the owner’s of Stony Brookside. “So allowing the three foot would keep them safe and also keep our drivers aware of what the cyclist needs, because everybody really does need to share the road.”