MoBikeFed's position on the proposed no passing zone law

Many people around the state have had a question about one of the planks in MoBikeFed's 2007 legislative platform.

The platform includes a statement about MoBikeFed's position on a proposed "no passing zone" law. Here are some of the details of this complex situation:

Situation: A proposed "no passing" law will force motorists to pass bicyclists unsafely (or just not pass at all--and how likely is it that drivers will do that?) whenever there is a solid yellow "no passing" line.

Proposed action: Before this legislation moves forward we want to change this to make it more bicycle friendly.

Reason: There are many locations properly marked "no passing" for motor vehicles where it is safe to pass a slower-moving vehicle like a bicycle. The new Missouri passing zone law can and should reflect this reality and should not force or encourage unsafe passing of bicyclists by motorists.

Historical perspective on the No Passing Zone legislation
Collisions involving passing vehicles on two-lane roads became a priority of the Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety.

One of Coalition's priorities was to come up with law that would make it easier to enforce no passing zones and assign liability to the driver of the passing vehicle in case there is a crash.

So in 2005 Rep. Neil St. Onge introduced the no passing on solid yellow legislation at the behest of the roadway safety people. As originally introduced it had no exceptions whatsoever to allow motorists to cross the solid yellow line in any situation.

Of course MoBikeFed opposed this legislation as it was written.

At the committee hearing for the legislation, several objections were brought up to the "no exceptions" nature of the bill--what happens when you come upon a slow moving vehicles, stopped vehicle, debris? Do you just wait behind forever? An alternate bill was introduced that included many of these exceptions. However this alternative failed to move and the bill with no exceptions was passed out of committee and included in the omnibus transportation bill for that year.

Fortunately, some of the other portions of that bill (mandatory seat belt usage, etc.) were controversial and the result was, the whole bill died.

The next year, 2006, the no passing on solid yellow line bill returned. The original form again allowed for no exceptions. However, in the committee hearings the same objections were again raised--what about slow-moving vehicles, stopped vehicles, debris, and so on. This time the bill that was finally recommended by the committee had a provision that would allow passing of slow-moving vehicles, when safe, even when there is a solid yellow "no passing zone marked".

However the flaw from the bicyclist point of this is that in defining "slow moving vehicle" they (by chance, apparently?) chose a definition of "vehicle" that excluded bicycles.

This bill was again all set to pass. But it was part of a big omnibus transportation bill that, again, failed to pass because of political problems with some of the other, unrelated provisions.

Current situation
The situation we are in now is this:

1. The no-passing-zone bill will be introduced again.
2. It is only a matter of time until it finally passes.
3. We want the final version that passes to be bicycle-friendly.

I would add also:

4. It is already illegal under MO law to cross the marked "no passing zone" lines. So if we can get this new law passed that specifically allows motorists to pass bicyclists in this situation we will not only be better off than if the "bad" law passed but also better off than we are now.

At this point what we are hoping is that the starting point this year will be where they ended last year. Then it will be fairly simple for us to request a slight wording change to include bicycles as among the slow-moving vehicles that may be passed in no-passing zones when it is safe to do so.

Frequently Asked Questions
1. Why don't you just oppose this law?
The law is supported by powerful and well funded interests. They will be back year after year. We could create difficulties for them but reality is, we could not stop the bill.

Also we look somewhat foolish, and our position is weak, if we appear to oppose the effort to improve safety on two-lane roads. These are a major safety problem in Missouri.

Our position is, we do not oppose the effort to improve safety in passing zones but any proposals must be written so as to also respect the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians who also use these roads to travel.

2. Why are they trying to pass a law that seems to outlaw what is already illegal?
The point of this law for the Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety and the law enforcement people is NOT that it is something brand new, but that it makes the no passing law clearer and makes it easier to get convictions for passing in a no passing zone.

Those are also the reasons they have opposed any efforts to create exceptions to the no passing zones. In their minds the exceptions only water down the intent of the legislation. Any exceptions will make it more difficult to get convictions. They are interested in "bright line" tests that will hold up in court, and do not want to include terms that allow drivers to exercise judgement or discretion. (An example of this would be wording that allows drivers to pass slow moving vehicles "when safe"--that leaves it up to the motorist to determine when it is safe and when it isn't.)

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