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H.3615, the new Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety bill

Last year, you remember we advanced H.3909, of the same name, all the way through the SC House and Senate.  After major challenges in the final month, the bill made it all the way to the finish line on the final day, and then it died at the 11th hour.

But that defeat is another opportunity this year.  Now called H.3615, this bill is largely the same:  it still contains a definition for electric bikes, benign updates to terminology for bike/ped infrastructure, and a requirement cars stop for pedestrians in non-signalized crosswalks – not just yielding.

However, the most controversial and also substantial part of the bill – additional penalties – has been redefined.  After much deliberation within PCC’s advocacy committee and partners, and very deliberate attention to the rapidly changing theories and opinions in the bike advocacy movement, we decided penalties was not our goal specifically, but safer roads through improved driver behavior is our goal.  That’s indisputable.  Since additional penalties is what most troubled state legislators opposed to some excessive incarceration rates, we did away with them.  All but one, which is also the most effective at improving safe driver behavior.  This court order, an 8 hour defensive driving course, as taught by the National Safety Council, has a serious track record of reducing repeat offenses, to the tune of:

  • After study analyzed the traffic violations a year before and a year after taking the NSC defensive driving course, all had significantly fewer violations (regardless of age group or sex),
  • Minor traffic violations decreased an average of 80%,
  • Major traffic violations decreased an average of 77%, and
  • Surchargeable violations decreased an average of 82%.

It’s important to note this course will apply in addition to other offenses, not in place of anything.  So if a Failure to Yield Right of Way charge is filed, this could be one of many charges that may result, and the course would be required in addition to any other applicable penalties if the driver was speeding, drunk, fled, broke other laws, or if there is a death or serious injury.  In other words, if a bicyclist is killed while in the Right-Of-Way on a bike, and the driver fled, was guilty of DUI, and/or was charged with reckless driving, applicable resulting penalties will still apply and the judge will now also require the defendant take a defensive driving course – if H.3615 passes.

And last, another improvement is we have altered the “failure to provide due carethreshold to “Failure to Yield Right-Of-Way“, because we realized this was first a clearer threshold and second in SC it is the most commonly charged citation issued by SC law enforcement when a driver hits a bicyclist or pedestrian.  We’re confident that if this passes, we’ll see this charge and the resulting court mandated defensive driving course taught to more drivers hitting bicyclists and pedestrians in South Carolina.  Yes – this is on the back end and not the front end of a crime – but we are regrouping with the SC DMV to make sure past PCC efforts at getting bike/ped questions in the driver’s license test are still being asked.

And last, we reduced the threshold to anytime a driver fails to yield the Right-Of-Way to someone on a bike or foot, not just if a serious injury or death occurs.  We have worked with BikeLaw and others on this bill and are happy to answer any questions.

And last, upon request from an upstate family member of a fallen bicyclist, who testified in favor of H.3615, we are investigating how to require that a driver causing death to a vulnerable road user attend their hearing, where the victim’s family is typically present.

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