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, since it still does this:

  1. requires cars actually stop for pedestrians in un-signalized crosswalks – not just yield,
  2. defines electric bikes, and
  3. benignly updates bike/ped infrastructure terminology
  4. requires a driver in a crash with a Vulnerable Road User in the Right of Way must take a defensive driving course.

This final and most substantial element – additional penalties for motorists Failing to Yield Right of Way to Vulnerable Road Users – was actually redefined because it hit challenges that were actually reasonable.  We deliberated with PCC advocacy committee and partners, paid attention to the rapidly changing theories in the bike advocacy movement, and then we decided penalties was not our goal specifically.  Our goal is safer roads through improved driver behavior is our goal.  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.  We kept a court ordered, 8 hour defensive driving course, as taught by the National Safety Council, with a track record of significantly 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, such as other penalties related to driving while speeding, drunk, fleeing the scene, breaking other laws, or if there is a death or serious injury.  

In addition, another improvement is we 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. 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.

Amy Johnson Ely

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