In 2014, over 100 million Americans aged 3 and older rode a bicycle at least once. Cycling is considered to be the 7th most popular recreational activity in the U.S. Unfortunately, 743 cyclists were killed and approximately 48,000 more were injured in crashes involving motor vehicles in the United States in 2013, figures which have steadily increased since 2010. In Virginia alone, there were eight cyclist fatalities and 740 injuries in the same year.
Cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities on Virginia roadways as motorists. Virginia law states, “[e]very person riding a bicycle on a highway shall be subject to the provisions of the Code of Virginia section on motor vehicles and shall have the rights and duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle unless a provision clearly indicates otherwise.” Code of Virginia §46.2-800.
Recently, Virginia has begun to take action to protect cyclists. On July 1, 2014, a new law passed by the General Assembly took effect requiring motorists to pass cyclists with at least 3 feet of space between the motor vehicle and the cyclist. Champe Burnley, President of the Virginia Bicycling Federation (VBF), observed,“[a]s we see more people choose to ride bikes or walk rather than drive their cars, this extra foot of clearance makes streets much safer for cyclists. We hope that drivers will use extra care when they pass a rider and avoid potential crashes.”
This year, the General Assembly passed a law sponsored by Sen. J. Chapman “Chap” Peterson (D-Fairfax City) that makes “dooring” a cyclist illegal in Virginia. Dooring is when a motorist opens a door into traffic and “doors” a cyclist, a pedestrian, or a passing vehicle. The measure shifts responsibility onto motorists to ensure that they can open their doors safely before doing so. The new law imposes a $50 fine for violators, but the main goal of the legislation, according to Sen. Peterson, was to establish liability on the part of the offending motorist so that the motorist will have to pay the cyclist’s medical bills. As the Washington Post reported, Sen. Peterson’s aide was doored while riding his bicycle in downtown Richmond. After the aide called police, he was told that the officer was more inclined to cite him for striking a motor vehicle. Statistics compiled by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles suggest that there were 233 crashes involving a motorist opening a door into traffic between 2010 and 2015. Of the 74 injuries that resulted, 15 were were injured cyclists. The new law took effect July 1, 2016.
For more information on rights and responsibilities of cyclists and motorists, see “Sharing The Road, 4th edition” online at http://www.virginiadot.org/.
About the Author: Scott Fitzgerald is a personal injury attorney practicing with the Allen Law Firm and works out of the Richmond office. His practice areas include car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, and drunk driving accidents.
 http://nbda.com/articles/industry-overview-2015-pg34.htm. The top six recreational activities in the U.S. are: exercise walking, swimming, camping, fishing, exercising with equipment, and bowling.
 See PDF file, “Three Feet Please” at http://www.vabike.org/