I first heard about “Frank’s Law” on the Providence Bicycle Coalition website. It’s Rhode Island’s version of what is often referred to as a “safe passing” law. Oftentimes, these specify that a vehicle must give a cyclist at minimum 3 feet (or 4 feet, are there any state laws that require more?) when passing said cyclist. Rhode Island’s version is a little different in that it require motorists to pass cyclists on the left at “a distance that is sufficient to prevent contact with the person operating the bicycle if the person were to fall over into the driver’s lane of traffic.” In practice, that means more like 5 feet, and I’d say that it makes more sense as a general rule, it’s just kind of difficult to explain on a street sign. I can imagine a sign that says, “Drivers must pass cyclists by 3 feet or more” but I can’t imagine a sign that says, “Drivers must pass cyclists at a distance sufficient to prevent contact if the cyclist were to fall over.” It also gives a little bit of wiggle room for interpretation, which isn’t always good in an enforcement situation. The fine for breaking the law is $85.
The ProJo had an article last Monday about the law including a little background information [do yourself and your blood pressure a favor: don't bother reading the comments]. It’s named after Frank Cabral, a cyclist who was killed by a motorist in 2007. The motorist was fined $75 for some minor infractions. I’ll let you read the ProJo article to get all of the details of the accident and the AG’s lack of prosecuting the driver. With the new law, a driver would be set back another 10 bucks. Awesome!
As with most laws like this, it all comes down to education and enforcement. The state driver’s test needs to have some questions about what to do when encountering a cyclist on the road. Police need to enforce this law and cite drivers who break the law. Somehow, I doubt I’ll see either of those things happening. This is likely to only be used as enforcement after-the-fact. That is, someone hits a cyclist, then they are fined $85 for failing to pass by more than the distance sufficient to prevent contact [etc.]. Meanwhile, the cyclist is in the hospital or dead.
About the only thing this law is good for is official complaints regarding commercial vehicles, transit, or other vehicles that have an identifying number and an employer that can put some pressure on a driver to obey the law. Like my situation with RIPTA. There’s no law saying that a bus driver can’t yell at a cyclist (although I hope that RIPTA has some rules about this). But there is now a law that says a bus can’t pass me too close. And if one does (or a commercial vehicle, police cruiser, mayor’s Hybrid SUV, etc.), I know that I can call someone and there will be a reasonable grounds for a complaint. And if you’ve read this blog, you know that I love complaining!