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'3-foot' bike safety bill becomes law in Monroe County

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Giving a bicyclist a berth of at least 3 feet when passing them on a roadway in a motor vehicle became law in Monroe County on Tuesday.

The legislation, signed into law by County Executive Adam Bello in a ceremony at the County Office Building, clarifies a state law that requires motorists to maintain “a safe distance” when passing bicyclists.

Some local lawmakers, like those in other counties, believed the language of the state law was too subjective. The legislation was sponsored by legislators Rachel Barnhart, a Democrat from Rochester, and Jackie Smith, a Republican from Clarkson, and passed the County Legislature with bipartisan support.

"New York State law does not define what is a safe distance to pass a bicycle on the road, it just says you have to pass by a safe distance, and no one knows what that means," Barnhart said. "That's very subjective."

The new law takes effect immediately, but does not change much in terms of punishment. The penalty is the same if a driver is deemed to not have passed at a safe distance. First-time violators are subject to losing three points on their license and a $150 fine.

The goal of the law was to provide a clear, enforceable guideline, and to educate drivers on safely sharing the road with cyclists.

RELATED: Local legislators push for '3-foot' bike safety law

So-called “3-foot laws” have been implemented in 33 states, but not in New York, despite repeated attempts by some state lawmakers in Albany. Suffolk County on Long Island recently adopted a local version of the law.

Monroe County’s version is known as “Carrie’s Law,” named for Carrie Ray, a 46-year-old teacher and avid cyclist from Clarkson, who was struck and killed by a passing truck while she was riding her bicycle on Sweden Walker Road in 2019.

"It's my hope that this bill actually causes absolutely no more tickets to be written," said Michael Ray, Carrie Ray's  husband. "That if this bill is able to educate more people to take seriously their responsibilities to share the road with others, that it is your responsibility to control your vehicle in a manner that keeps everyone around you safe, to be proactive rather than reactive, we won't have any more tickets to write, and this bill will have done exactly what it needed to do."

Lawmakers acknowledged that enforcement of such laws is notoriously difficult, but said part of the effectiveness of the new law is raising awareness.

"What is a safe distance, how can that be enforced, and how can we teach our drivers to maintain that safe distance if that is not clear?" Bello said.

David Andreatta is CITY's editor. He can be reached at [email protected].

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or [email protected].