New law will change the rules of the road for drivers and bicyclists starting July 1

If you’re passing a cyclist or group of riders in a vehicle, you’ll soon have to change lanes a lot more.

A new law going into effect July 1 will require drivers to switch lanes if they can’t maintain three feet of distance when passing cyclists.

The Fairfax County Police Department says this means motorists may have to cross double yellow lines, imploring people to “share the road.” Police told Reston Now that they hope people will abide by the new legislation and help keep everyone safe on roadways.

“I think it’s going to be huge in the long run,” Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling President Bruce Wright said Monday while stopping during a bicycle ride on the Washington & Old Dominion Trail. He acknowledged that the change may require some education.

Wright says the new law means that vehicles will generally need to shift lanes, because lanes in the state are typically 11 or 12 feet wide.

“In effect, almost every lane in Virginia will require a motorist to safely pass,” he said.

The state law was adopted in February after General Assembly legislators removed a provision that would have allowed cyclists to treat stop signs like a yield sign.

Some states, including Delaware, allow the so-called “Idaho stop” for bicycle riders. Like Virginia, Washington, D.C., considered the stop-as-yield measure but also declined to adopt it.

The new law also ends a requirement for cyclists to file into a single lane when being passed.

Tensions between cyclists and drivers played out on the county police department’s Facebook post about the issue. Several people noted cyclists should obey traffic laws, too.

Wright says those online arguments between cyclists and drivers are similar to honking as well as dangerous behaviors on the road.

“There’s so much animosity, and it’s aggressive,” Wright said.

Some people on social media questioned whether double yellow lines should ever be crossed.

Current law already allows drivers to cross double yellow lines when passing others, including cyclists, skateboarders, and scooters. Another provision involves giving enough distance to mopeds, animal-drawn vehicles, and more when drivers pass them.

Pedestrian and bicycle safety is a persistent concern in Fairfax County, where seven pedestrians and two cyclists have died in car crashes so far this year. Whether these new laws help alleviate those issues remains to be seen.

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