Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Drivers in New Mexico would have to stay at least 5 feet away as they pass bicyclists on the road under legislation that passed the state House late Friday.
Rep. Angelica Rubio, a Las Cruces Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill, said she hoped it would encourage motorists and cyclists to better share the road.
“It’s the next step to make sure we’re changing the culture,” Rubio said.
The proposal, House Bill 192, ran into detailed questioning by Republican lawmakers – who questioned whether it’s always practical to provide that much space and whether laws on the books already are adequate.
“What this legislation tries to do is shift liability to the motorist if they’re involved in a collision, and that I have a problem with,” said Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque.
Rubio said she was simply trying to make motorists aware of the need to drive carefully around cyclists. The proposed law would create a $25 penalty if a police officer witnessed a violation, though there would court fees charged on top of that.
Similar regulations are already in place, Rubio said, in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Rio Rancho and 32 other states.
The bill passed 48-18 and now heads to the Senate for consideration.
The proposal directs motorists to use caution as they approach a person on a bicycle and says they must maintain a safe distance of at least 5 feet. Drivers would be allowed to cross the center line of the road if it’s necessary and there’s no oncoming traffic.
House Minority Whip Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, said the proposal is confusing.
“I think the problem with this legislation is, even if it’s enacted, I think it’s going to be hard to explain what someone should do,” he said. “I think it makes it a very, very difficult law to enforce.”
Rubio argued otherwise – that the law would clear up confusion because it would standardize the passing rules throughout the state.
State transportation officials, she said, are also planning an education campaign if the bill becomes law.
Rubio said cyclists are subject to traffic laws themselves and must move to the right when someone is trying to pass them.
Rubio attracted attention earlier this year when she rode her bike from Las Cruces to Santa Fe for the start of the session, stopping along the way for bipartisan town-hall meetings.
From 2015-18, 26 cyclists were killed on New Mexico roads, according to preliminary data reported by the state Department of Transportation.
Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, is a co-sponsor of the bill.