The N.C. House voted 104-4 Thursday to add new safety requirements for bicyclists traveling at night, while making it easier for vehicles to legally pass bikes and mopeds in no-passing zones.
The bike provisions were part of a larger transportation bill that also makes tweaks to tolling policies used on the Triangle Expressway in Wake County.
Current law governing passing slower vehicles on two-lane roads doesn’t mention bicycles and mopeds. “There has not been a major update to some of these things in 38 years,” said Rep. Chris Whitmire, a Transylvania County Republican.
If the bill becomes law, a vehicle could pass a bicycle or moped in a no-passing zone if it keeps a four-foot distance from the slower vehicle and the bike or moped is not signaling to make a left turn.
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The bill also applies penalties currently on the books for motorcycle-related crashes to drivers who hit bicyclists. Those fines range from $500 to $750.
Bicyclists would face new visibility requirements when on the road at night. Currently, nighttime cyclists only have to use a rear reflector. The bill would require them to either use a red rear light or wear a reflective vest.
“This comes as a result of many people coming upon bicyclists in dark clothing at night, particularly in resort areas,” said Rep. Frank Iler, an Oak Island Republican who sponsored the bill.
Whitmire said the new rules were developed with input from bicyclists and other groups. “There is considerable buy-in on these measures,” he said.
But Rep. Verla Insko, a Chapel Hill Democrat, said she worries the bill has no restrictions about passing on hills. “If a motorist passes a bicyclist on a hill, and a result they have an accident, no one would have broken a law,” she said.
Toll road tweaks
The transportation legislation also includes several provisions addressing complaints about the N.C. Turnpike Authority’s billing practices.
The agency runs the Triangle Expressway in western Wake County, which uses license plate cameras to send drivers toll bills in the mail.
If the legislation passes, drivers who don’t buy a toll transponder could ask the Turnpike Authority to bill them by email. “It just means hopefully a little less paperwork,” said Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Cary Republican.
Legislators also agreed to address complaints about the Turnpike Authority’s high late fees. Rep. Paul Luebke, a Durham Democrat, said one constituent received a bill for $193 because the person failed to pay a $1 toll on time.
Luebke’s amendment asks the agency to consider capping late penalties at $50 for each use of the toll road. “It is possible to have a $1 toll, and through one reason or another not get the mailing about the toll due, and have your fines and fees and surcharges skyrocket,” he said.
The transportation bill now heads to the Senate.