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New law says cars must pass three feet away

NATCHEZ — Natchez cyclist Stan Smith hopes a new state law will prevent a car mirror from passing a little too closely to his head in the future.

The John Paul Frerer Law, named after a North Mississippi man who died after being struck by a vehicle while he was riding his bicycle before school, requires motorists to give cyclists a three-foot courtesy on Mississippi roadways. Smith said educating people is the key.

“I think the law is great, as long as we get plenty of recognition for it,” Smith said “Very few motorists are going to know there is a rule at all, until (law enforcement officers) start handing out tickets.”

The pedestrian and cyclist advocacy group Bike Walk Mississippi spearheaded the law, and board member and Natchez cyclist Allen Richard said he felt the law would make the roads safer for motorists and cyclists alike.

“It does give motorists and cyclists a frame of reference because everyone knows what three feet looks like,” Richard said.

Richard said the law will also provide a tool for law enforcement should a matter be brought to an officer’s attention.

“If there is a problem of harassment, it gives law enforcement a law on the books to enforce or punish someone who is a hazard in a car,” Richard said. “People behaving recklessly around cyclists is not a problem in most cases, but when there is a case, they need help to enforce it.”

Richard said the problem is often visibility, and motorists will pass cyclists and never be aware of it.

“The burden is on cyclist to be visible and to ride safely,” Richard said. “I recommend wearing bright clothing, and a red blinking light on the bike.”

When a motorist does get too close, it is uncomfortable for a biker, Smith said.

“We get hit by mirrors, or we come close to getting hit when people buzz by,” Smith said. “When people ride by, they don’t realize their mirror is sticking out, and it goes over my shoulder.”

Richard said making cyclists feel comfortable on the roads could help clear up traffic congestion.

“It is not only a form of recreation, but also a primary form of transportation for many,” Richard said. “A lot people would be interested in commuting or using a bike for a small trip, if they felt safe,” Richard said. “There would then be less cars on the road making parking easier.”

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