• What: Bike2Work Commuter breakfast and announcement of new Tennessee cycling law
• When: 8 a.m. today
• Where: South end of Walnut Street Bridge (intersection of First Street and pedestrian bridge)
Biking is a bit safer in Tennessee and Georgia as of this morning, assuming two new state laws keep motorists away from cyclists.
Legislation sponsored by Tennessee Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, strengthens penalties against drivers who hit pedestrians or cyclists. Across the state line, Georgia drivers now must keep at least three feet between themselves and cyclists.
Both laws became official today as a new fiscal year begins for governments everywhere.
Since 2003, automobiles have killed four bicyclists in the Chattanooga region, according to Chattanooga Times Free Press archives.
"Everyone has a right to be safe on our streets, whether traveling by foot, by bicycle or by car," Berke said Thursday from his Nashville office. "We've ensured that drivers know they have to use due care around bicyclists and increased the penalties when they don't."
The leap is substantial.
Penalties for failure to exercise due care - defined by Berke as "keeping your attention open to other people on the street" - include up to a $500 fine, 11 months and 29 days in jail and the loss of a driver's license for causing death.
Prosecutors can still seek more stringent penalties such as manslaughter or vehicular homicide in cases of death, but the new law "may strengthen their hand" in lesser cases, Berke said.
Previously, violators received a Class C misdemeanor, which carried up to 30 days in jail and a $50 fine, according to a University of Tennessee academic document.
No Tennessee representatives or senators voted against the bill, signaling greater acceptance and protection for those without vehicles. Only Rep. Julia Hurley, R-Lenoir City, abstained from voting.
"I had a motorcycling accident," Hurley said in a written statement.
The Georgia law says the three-foot distance is in effect until the motorist passes the cyclist ,and it bolsters potential liability against drivers, legal experts said.
Tom Ingledew, a former Los Angeles Police Department detective and current interim president of the Chattanooga Bicycle Club, praised both new laws but said there's still room for improvement.
"You have people who see how close they can get to somebody on a bike. ... We've had some cyclists in our club shot at," he said from his home in Ringgold, Ga. "We'll advocate for more stringent laws and more of an understanding by the public that they have to share the road."