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Austin’s Vulnerable Road User Law and How It Protects Motorcyclists, Bicyclists, Pedestrians, Scooters and Horseback Riders

Austin has adopted the three foot passing rule as between autos and bikes and a six foot passing rule as between trucks and bikes. The Austin law defines those protected as “vulnerable road users” as follows:

“(1) a pedestrian, including a runner, physically disabled person, child, skater,
highway construction and maintenance worker, tow truck operator, utility worker, other
worker with legitimate business in or near the road or right-of-way, or stranded motorist
or passenger;
(2) a person on horseback;
(3) a person operating equipment other than a motor vehicle, including, but
not limited to, a bicycle, hand cycle, horse-driven conveyance, or unprotected farm
equipment; or
(4) a person operating a motorcycle, moped, motor-driven cycle, or motor assisted scooter.”

The law also states as follows:

“(b) An operator of a motor vehicle passing a vulnerable road user operating on a
highway or street shall:
(1) vacate the lane in which the vulnerable road user is located if the highway
has two or more marked lanes running in the same direction; or
(2) pass the vulnerable road user at a safe distance.”

The law then defines safe distance as:

“(c) For the purpose of Subsection (b)(2), when road conditions allow, safe distance
is at least:
(1) three feet if the operator’s vehicle is a passenger car or light truck; or
(2) six feet if the operator’s vehicle is a truck, other than a light truck, or a
commercial motor vehicle as defined by Texas Transportation Code Section 522.003.”

The law makes provisions for vulnerable road user right-of-ways where oncoming traffic is making left hand turns:

“(d) An operator of a motor vehicle that is making a left turn at an intersection,
including an intersection with an alley or private road or driveway, shall yield the right-of-way to a vulnerable road user who is approaching from the opposite direction and is in
the intersection, or is in such proximity to the intersection as to be an immediate hazard.”

The autos and trucks that speed up to pass you, they are breaking the law. This is what the law says about this manuever:

“(e) An operator of a motor vehicle may not overtake a vulnerable road user
traveling in the same direction and subsequently make a right-hand turn in front of the
vulnerable road user unless the operator is safely clear of the vulnerable road user, taking
into account the speed at which the vulnerable road user is traveling and the braking
requirements of the motor vehicle making the right-hand turn.”

There is even an anti-harassment provision written into the law:

“(f) An operator of a motor vehicle may not maneuver the vehicle in a manner that:
(1) is intended to cause intimidation or harassment to a vulnerable road user; or
(2) threatens a vulnerable road user.”

The law places the due care responsibility on the auto or truck UNLESS the vulnerable road user is in violation of the law:

“(g) An operator of a motor vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with

anyvulnerable road user on a roadway or inan intersection of roadways.
(h) It is an affirmative defense to prosecution under this section that at the time of
the offense the vulnerable road user was acting in violation of the law.”

This information is directly quoted from § 12-1-35 VULNERABLE ROAD USERS Austin Ordinance.

To Ride With or Without a Helmet, That is The Question

Helmets are hot. We mean sexy. Sexy to us because it means you have a brain you want to protect. Brains are sexy. Helmets are also hot as in they can make us feel heat on our heads on an already blisteringly hot day. Therein lies the question, take it off, or keep it on?

We are all about personal freedoms and we believe this choice is certainly up to you. We want you to keep your brains and that sexy head of yours and many argue that helmets are more dangerous because we are not seen by other vehicles as “as vulnerable” when riding and cars and trucks are less cautious. Some argue that helmets make no guarantees of safe landings in crashes. There may be truth to all these arguments and we are not trying to change or shape anyone’s opinion and we respect everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Truth is, if you are hit hard enough, no helmet will protect you. True. Fair enough. But, ….take a look at this information from the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS). They have no horse in any race to increase insurance costs for riders that ride without helmets. They have no horse in the race of whether you purchase a DOT certified helmet or not. The AANS is not the government. The AANS is made up of surgeons who will treat you after your head has suffered a blow.

Shefman Law represents cyclists and bikers in Austin, Texas following traumatic brain injuries (TBI). We see the afterglow of that glorious ride without a helmet. Thankfully they don’t all end in trauma. Thankfully most rides are just that, a glorious ride. If your ride goes bad we will be there for you, with or without a helmet, no matter your choice. We just want to share some of this information.

In 2009, The American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) utilizing U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) data tracking specific instances through tracking data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) cycling related head injuries contributing to the highest number of estimated head injuries treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms in 2009.
Cycling accounted for 85,389 head injuries in adults and in head-injury categories among children ages 14 and younger cycling accounted for 40,272 head injuries.

“A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is defined as a blow or jolt to the head, or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the normal function of the brain. TBI can result when the head suddenly and violently hits an object, or when an object pierces the skull and enters brain tissue. Symptoms of a TBI can be mild, moderate or severe, depending on the extent of damage to the brain. Mild cases may result in a brief change in mental state or consciousness, while severe cases may result in extended periods of unconsciousness, coma or even death.” (AANS)

According to the AANS every year, more than 500,000 people visit emergency rooms in the United States with bicycle-related injuries. Of those, nearly 85,000 were head injuries in 2009. There are about 600 deaths a year, with two-thirds being attributed to TBI. It is estimated that up to 85 percent of head injuries can be prevented through proper usage of properly fitting helmets.

Universal use of bicycle helmets by children ages 4 to 15 could prevent 45,000 head injuries.

So, these are real numbers. Real heads hurt. Some of them were tiny heads. That makes our head hurt. We want you to be safe, stay sexy, and if you can tolerate it, to wear a helmet. The law in Texas does not require you to but it does require we protect our little ones heads. So, let’s make sure those helmets fit properly and give them the chance to grow up and choose the answer to the question, “To Ride With or Without a Helmet?” on their own.

Kirk Watson’s Bill SB 275 just passed the Senate. Onward through the House

For those of you not following this legislative session, SB 275 just passed through the Senate unanimously. The measure was authored by Austin Democratic Sen. Kirk Watson.

Senate Bill 275 enhances prior punishments and ups the anti. If a driver flees the scene of a crash s/he will face up to 20 years in prison, a $10,000 fine in what is charged as a second degree felony.

The case where a Capitol Hill aide, Nestande, hit, and fled the scene leaving Courtney Griffin in the road without medical assistance where she ultimately died has raised great attention from lawmakers such that this pass flew through the Senate. Now, onward to the House.

KVUE wrote this article
and the Statesman’s coverage of the same is here

Cycle Tracks in Austin

Any cyclist, at some point, has heard: “Get out of the road!!” or, more curiously: “Pay taxes!!” What’s with all the hostility? Why wouldn’t cyclists ride on the road? (Furthermore, why does riding a bike imply that cyclists don’t pay taxes???) After all, bikes are legally defined as moving vehicles (not to be confused with motor vehicles), so cyclists are bound to a whole set of laws and city codes dictating where and how to ride bicycles.
This tension between motorists and cyclists is growing behind the vast urban expansion of Central Texas, putting more vulnerable road users at daily risk. Cycling accidents accounted for 2.8% of all road collisions in 2011, up 0.5% from 2010. Unfortunately, the number of injurious accidents rose as well. The City of Austin has answered to this rising danger by implementing “cycle tracks.”
Cycle tracks are two-way buffered paths separated from the road by pylon barriers. Their purpose is to allow cyclists a safe opportunity for movement along popular traffic corridors. Austin houses three cycle tracks beside common use roads- Bluebonnet Drive from Meldridge to South Lamar, Rio Grande near UT, and parts of the Lance Armstrong Bikeway- with more planned for the future. The city anticipates by 2020 5% of all commuters will be cyclists; making cycle tracks and other vulnerable road user opportunities a critical piece of Austin’s ever-changing infrastructure.
This type of infrastructure is backed by Austin’s adoption of Complete Streets policy. This policy holds “the simple and basic concept that streets and roadways should be designed and operated to be safe and accessible for all transportation users whether they are pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders, or vehicular motorists.” Complete Streets also calls for early consideration of cyclists and pedestrians when planning new developments and reconstruction to roads. The impact of Complete Streets has proven so successful that Texas Legislature is considering adopting it as statewide policy.

To keep roads safe and sidewalks free to pedestrians, lawmakers passed a 3-foot rule in late 2009, requiring all motorists to give at least 3 feet of space between vehicles and cyclists. This law isn’t just pointed to drivers; cyclists have a responsibility in taking advantage of safe causeway solutions, such as bike paths, and for following traffic laws. While this law can be difficult to enforce, it is designed to protect all road users.

Some argue that cycle tracks and the difficulty of enforcing the 3-Foot Rule sends a poor message to motorists—cyclists don’t belong on the road. Because cycle tracks place a physical barrier between driving and riding space, critics claim drivers pay less attention to cyclists entering intersections or merging where the path ends. More strongly, though, cycle tracks may prove to drivers that cyclists belong on a separate causeway. The 3-Foot Rule could evoke similar emotions since drivers feel cyclists should exclusively use bike paths when available or ensure THEY are operating 3 feet from the vehicle, not the other way around.

These concerns are certainly a consideration for Central Texas as the area continues booming. To see the proposed changes through 2020, view the Austin Bicycle Plan.

How do you feel about cycle tracks? Are they important stepping stones to an urban infrastructure or an unfair message to the purpose of cyclists as road users?


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