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New three-foot buffer protects cyclists

Thursday, Jul. 24 | By Julie Taylor
Cyclists ride past a "ghost bike" memorial on Crest Hill Road in honor of Wayne Caviness. Caviness was killed last summer when a pick-up truck struck his bike from behind. A new state law now requires motorists to leave a three-foot gap when passing cyclists.
Bicyclists across Virginia are saying "finally" as the law commonly known as the “Three Foot Law” passed earlier this month.

As of July 1, vehicles must leave a three-foot gap when passing cyclists.

The hilly, winding, narrow back roads of Fauquier tend to be laden with cyclists. This new law could mean that motorists will have to travel behind bikers for a longer period of time before seeing a safe opportunity to pass with a three foot gap.

As a cyclist and motorist, Levi Magyar gives advice on how to best pass on a back road.

"I will keep pace with them 'til I have the clearest of clear line of sight to get around them," said Magyar, a mechanic at Bike Stop in Warrenton.

The new law is a bump up from a two-foot law, under which eight people died and more than 600 cyclists were injured in crashes on Virginia roadways in 2013, according to statistics from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles Highway Safety Office.

“We hope that drivers will use extra care when they pass a rider and avoid potential crashes,” according to Champe Burnley, President of the Virginia Bicycling Federation who supported the legislation.

One of the eight deaths in 2013 was in Fauquier County.

Albert Wayne Caviness of Warrenton was biking on Crest Hill Road when a pickup truck hit him from behind.

"The law is a good one and a necessary one as evidenced by the tragic event last year on one of our rural roadways that took the life of a local man," said Lt. James Hartman, of the Fauquier County Sheriff's Office.

"Rural roads are dangerous by their very nature for cyclists and motorists, but given the right place and time there should always be a spot on the road favorable to safely pass a cyclist."

Steven Gordon, a biking enthusiast from Warrenton said, "If we're going to add a law, I would rather add one that says 'motorists cannot pass cyclists on blind corners.' That is way more dangerous, for both parties. Gordon was the Atlantic Coast Conference champion, then moved on to professional domestic team DLP. He lived and raced as an amateur in Belgium for a season before going back to amateur racing in the US.

It happens basically every time I ride that someone passes me on a blind corner and almost gets killed by oncoming traffic."

Magyar is happy with the small victory for cyclists.

"I think the state finally, after years of arguing over it, finally decided to pass what is really a common sense law that many other states have passed before us," he said.

Currently, 20 other states observe the law, and Pennsylvania has a four-foot law.

Magyar shares a visual to help the community connect with bikers.

"You have to remember that's a person—a mother, father, son brother, sister," he said. "That 30 seconds you wait to pass could save their life, your life. Is it worth getting there 45 seconds faster? Just wait to pass."

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