Buffalo is seeing terrific upgrades to its bicycle infrastructure. The upgrades have included the installation of 11.3 miles of bike lanes in 2013. These lanes will hopefully not only encourage bicycling within Buffalo but also make it safer. A new report out of Rochester indicates, however, that a bicycle safety law has not been enforced.
Merrill’s Law went into effect in 2010 and requires drivers to pass cyclists “at a safe distance.”
Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 1122-a. Overtaking a bicycle. The operator of a vehicle overtaking, from behind, a bicycle proceeding on the same side of a roadway shall pass to the left of such bicycle at a safe distance until safely clear thereof.
The law was passed due to an accident that took the life of 66-year-old bicyclist Merrill Cassel of Greenburg, New York. Cassel was riding his bike near White Plains when a public bus sideswiped him. Cassel died of his injuries.
The originally proposed legislation required drivers to maintain a minimum of three feet when passing bicyclists. The three-foot minimum was changed to a “safe distance” because legislators believed that situations could arise that required drivers to stay more than three feet away. Although this law was intended to make drivers more aware of cyclists and keep cyclists safe, it has barely been enforced. According to the report, between 2011 and 2013, only 29 Merrill’s Law tickets were written throughout New York each year.
There are two main ways to better protect cyclists with Merrill’s Law. The first is to strengthen it. The law could be revised to require drivers to pass cyclists both at a safe distance and at a minimum of three feet. Second, police throughout New York could enforce the law to a greater extent. If these measures take place, the number of cyclists who are injured in New York each year would likely decrease.