Every bicyclist has a horror story about that time a motorist pushed him or her off the road. And until recently, bike riders didn’t have much recourse when encountering such a situation.

A new law signed by Gov. Tom Corbett should allow bicyclists to breathe a little easier, as motorists are now required to provide a 4-foot “cushion of safety” when passing bike riders.

The law, which was signed by Corbett on Feb. 2 and went into effect on April 2, also allows drivers to cross the roadway’s center line when passing a bicycle on the left when opposing traffic allows it, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

Additionally, the law requires drivers turning left to yield the right of way to bike riders traveling in the opposite direction.

Pennsylvania is the 20th state to pass such a law and is the only one requiring a distance of more than 3 feet.

Kristoph Kocan, who has been an avid rider for six years, is happy with the rule changes. He’s not sure how well the upgraded law can be enforced, but he has had a few close calls with automobiles in the past.

“I don’t think they realize how close they come to you, and sometimes blare on the horn to let you know they’re passing or show frustration,” Kocan said. “It’s pretty unnerving.”

Kocan, however, feels the drivers aren’t always the only ones to blame. Due to their speed, bicyclists are required to remain on the right side of the road and allow motorists to pass.

“It’s a two-way street,” he said. “People have to respect the motorist too.”

Kocan sometimes rides with a group that meets at Diamond Park on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings. They usually ride 30-plus miles but try to avoid the busy streets and routes.

He expects bicycle traffic to pick up over the next few months since the second annual Dam Tri Jr. triathlon is approaching. Many riders should be training for the event that begins the morning of June 23 at Col. Crawford Park at Woodcock Creek Lake.

Pat Emig, owner/operator of Emig’s Bicycle Shop, said whether people actually pay attention to the law is going to make a difference.

“Our customer base is a lot older than it used to be,” he said. “Baby boomers are riding more. There’s more people out on the road and they have to be more aware.”

Emig said that drivers should simply put themselves into a cyclist’s shoes when making a pass.

“A lot of it is just plain common sense,” he said. “It’s no different than passing a buggy.”

One of the first cyclists to be protected by the new law was Frank Pavlick, who on April 2 was involved in a situation in Bethlehem, a city in eastern Pennsylvania. Pavlick was injured in a hit-and-run crash, but the 17-year-old driver was cornered and taken into custody, reports said.

PennDOT’s biggest tips for motorists are to slow down to a safe speed when approaching and passing a bicycle; do not slow down or stop quickly after passing a bicycle; and do not use a car horn when near bicyclists unless it is used to avoid an accident.

At the end of the day, the new law is all about sharing the road and saving the lives of bicyclists.

Nina Bell, who is a triathlete and coordinates the annual Tour de Tamarack bicycling event in Meadville, had a recent incident with a motorist while she was jogging along a highway. She also rides a bicycle quite frequently and hopes the law leads to better-informed motorists.

“A bicycle is considered a motor vehicle,” Bell said. “We can’t ride the sidewalks. That’s illegal. We have just as much right to be on the roads.”

Some key provisions in Pennsylvania’s upgraded bicyclist safety law include:

- Motorists are now required to provide a four-foot “cushion of safety” when passing bike riders.

- Drivers may cross the roadway’s center line when passing a bicycle on the left, when opposing traffic allows it.

- Drivers turning left must yield the right of way to bike riders traveling in the opposite direction.

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