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Beyond Chicagoland

Details About the New Illinois Bike Safety Legislation

Currently the bike on the left is can legally be ridden at night in Illinois, but the bike on the right cannot. The new legislation fixes that. Photo: John Greenfield

New state bike laws that go into effect on New Year’s Day make it legal for drivers to cross a solid centerline in order to safely pass a cyclist, as well as making it clear that bike riders are allowed to ride on the shoulder of the road and use a tail light in place of a rear reflector when riding at night.

Ride Illinois, formerly the League of Illinois Bicyclists, the statewide bike advocacy group, proposed the bill, House Bill 1784. The legislation had bipartisan support – it was sponsored by Democrat state senator Heather Steans of Chicago and Republican state rep Tim Butler of Springfield last January. Both chambers of the Illinois Assembly unanimously passed the bill in May, and Governor Bruce Rauner signed it into law on August 25.

“This new legislation legalizes some common motorist and bicyclist traffic practices,” said Ride Illinois chief programs officer Ed Barsotti. “The intent is to make the roads safer while improving car-bicycle interactions.”

On most two-lane roads, the travel lanes are too narrow for motorists to safely and legally pass cyclist by providing the required three feet of clearance, without crossing the center line. In a no-passing zone with a solid centerline, it was previously technically illegal for a driver to cross that line.

Thanks to the new law motorists can now do so with the confidence that they aren’t breaking the law, assuming that there’s no danger of striking an oncoming vehicle in the other lane. This help remove the temptation for drivers to squeeze in too close to cyclists to avoid crossing the center line, which, at best, creates a frightening situation for the bike rider and, at worst, can lead to a sideswipe crash.

The new legislation also specifies that it’s legal (although not required) for cyclists to use the shoulder of the road. Under the existing Illinois law, it’s generally illegal for motorists to drive on the shoulder, although exceptions are made for some items such as tractors and other farm equipment. Making it clear that bike riders may also use the shoulder may be helpful in liability cases where a cyclist is struck on the shoulder, and it will also be useful for road agencies that wish to designate a road shoulder as part of a marked bike route.

Finally, the legislation codifies the common-sense principle that a rear, red taillight is at least as visible as a comparably sized reflector. The city of Chicago, as well as eight states, already allow a taillight to be used instead of a reflector, and now Illinois will have a more logical law this regard as well.

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