State and local law enforcement agencies on Wednesday will roll out a specially equipped bike in the Las Vegas Valley to enforce Nevada’s “3-foot rule” that says drivers must move over to give cyclists adequate room on the road.
“We’re trying to get people to think and humanize these cyclists,” Pat Treichel, founder of the bicycling organization Ghost Bikes Las Vegas, said of the awareness-building campaign. “These people aren’t just a pain in the butt wearing spandex and a helmet. It’s actually someone’s mother, father, brother, sister and co-worker.”
There have been 10 bicyclist deaths in Nevada this year: eight in Clark County, one in Carson City and one in Nye County. That represents an increase of 42.9 percent from the seven fatalities recorded at this time last year, according to the Nevada Office of Traffic Safety.
Five of the fatalities occurred in a crash in early December when a group of bicyclists were mowed down on U.S. Highway 95 south of Boulder City by a driver suspected of driving under the influence.
Wednesday’s enforcement effort will entail one officer riding a special laser-equipped bicycle on a loop from Hualapai Way in Las Vegas to Desert Foothills Drive and onto West Charleston Boulevard. The device will measure the distance between passing cars and the human-powered vehicle, and the bicyclist will call out violations to about a dozen officers staged along the route.
‘A digital tape measure’
“Think of it as a digital tape measure,” Andrew Bennett, a spokesman for the Nevada Office of Traffic Safety, said of the laser.
Drivers who don’t give up the lane and move to the left when they have the opportunity to do so or fail to provide adequate clearance may be cited — a ticket that can carry a fine of more than $250 — or warned.
Officers from Las Vegas, Henderson, North Las Vegas, the Clark County School District, UNLV and the Nevada Highway Patrol are participating in the effort.
It’s not the first time laser-equipped bikes have been used in Nevada. The traffic safety office said its officers have conducted similar enforcement efforts once or twice a year since 2015. But because of the recent fatalities, they and their local law enforcement partners plan to do similar rides several times a month in areas popular with local bicyclists.
In Nevada, the “3-foot law” is often misinterpreted as requiring a driver to move over enough to give the cyclists 3 feet of clearance. But the law states that a driver must merge left to the adjacent lane when possible to give the cyclists extra space. Only when that maneuver is unavailable or unsafe is a motorist allowed to pull left within the lane, giving the cyclist at least 3 feet of clearance before passing, the law says.
The most common local locations for bicycle accidents include the area near Charleston Boulevard and the 215 Beltway, along Saint Rose Parkway, on Flamingo Road between Paradise and Pecos roads, and around Boulder Highway and Nellis Boulevard, according to the traffic safety office.
Many bicyclists can describe close calls with motorized vehicles, but Rob Hutchinson numbers himself among the fortunate riders who have been hit and lived to tell about it.
While riding on the right side of Fort Apache Road between Blue Diamond and Warm Springs about 4 a.m. in October 2018, the Las Vegas resident said he was struck by a car, lost control of his bike and fell. The car drove off, leaving Hutchinson on the ground with an injured face and a broken helmet.
“I had two blinking lights on, my headlights on and reflective gear,” he recalled Tuesday. “The person must have been drunk for them not to see me biking. I was shaken up after that accident. I didn’t want to bike by myself for a while and would shake every time a car passed by me.”
Part of the problem is that a majority of drivers are unaware of the state’s 3-foot law, according to a survey by the traffic safety office.
“We need to bring awareness to this law,” said Bennett, the office spokesman. “Our goal is to ensure drivers understand this law, implement it into their driving habits and hold people accountable who choose not to follow the law.”