New Legislation Would Give Bicyclists More Space

New Legislation Would Give Bicyclists More Space

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John Daley ReportingThe driver of an SUV which hit and killed a bicyclist in Big Cottonwood Canyon last fall today was charged with negligent homicide. Meantime, new legislation inspired by this case may now become law.

That bill would require motorists to give bicyclists a three-foot gap when passing, on a road wide enough for that. It easily passed in the Utah House, but was in limbo in the Senate. Late this afternoon a compromise bill emerged.

25-year-Josie Johnson, a graduate student at the University of Utah, was killed last fall when she was biking up Big Cottonwood Canyon. She was on the far right of two uphill lanes when she was struck from behind by a car.

The driver, Elizabeth Deseelhorst, wife of the owner of Solitude Ski Resort, pleaded not guilty today to negligent homicide charges.

The case has galvanized bike riders who went to Capitol Hill for new legislation that would require drivers to give bicyclists a three-foot berth when passing.

The bill breezed through the House, but got stuck in the Senate, in part because some in the GOP majority worried bicyclists might abuse the rules.

Sen. Chris Buttars, (R) West Jordan: "You've got a certain type of biker. They'll drive four wide on the road. Or they'll drive right up to that line and if you have serious traffic coming in the other direction, between trucks and everything else, I think it's going to have to be rethought."

Bicyclists, including Josie Johnson's brother, say they're frustrated.

Ken Johnson: "I don't see that this bill has any harm or give an advantage to any group. The only thing I think it would do is avoid accidents like the one that happened to my sister."

John Weis: “One thing I’ve learned while up there is there are a lot of misconceptions about bicycle law, about where they can be and can’t be.”

Late today a compromise bill emerged which would back new education but perhaps strip the three-foot buffer.

Sen. Curtis Bramble, (R) Provo: "What we're looking at is a substitute bill which would provide a bicycle safety awareness campaign."

Elizabeth Deseelhorst declined to comment about the case today. Her attorney says she's sick about what happened, but he says this case should never have resulted in a criminal charge.

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