RICHMOND, Va. - A Virginia Senate panel endorsed legislation Wednesday aimed at preventing people from opening car doors into the path of passing bicyclists.
The bill would require drivers and passengers to make sure it's safe before opening vehicle doors on the side adjacent to moving traffic. Violations would be a traffic offense punishable by a $100 fine. Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax and sponsor of the bill, said bicyclists cite what they call "dooring" as the leading preventable cause of biking injuries.
"To me, this is simply a common-sense bill," said Tom Bowden, chairman of Bike Virginia and one of several biking enthusiasts who spoke to the Transportation Committee.
Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, wasn't persuaded. He said he owns a house in Richmond near Virginia Commonwealth University, where young cyclists and skateboarders "come out of nowhere" _ particularly at night _ and whiz past cars parallel-parked on the street.
"To say because I open the door and some idiot runs into it and I'm at fault and I could be sued _ I've got huge problems with this bill," Wagner said.
The committee voted 7-6 to send the bill to the Senate floor.
On another issue, the panel rejected legislation to relax Virginia's reckless driving-speeding law. The statute says anyone who drives 20 mph or more over the speed limit, or more than 80 mph regardless of the posted limit, can be convicted of reckless driving.
Sen. Richard Black, R-Loudon, said the 80 mph threshold was set before the speed limit on some stretches of Virginia interstate highways was raised to 70 mph. Drivers who just go 11 mph over the limit in those areas can be convicted of reckless driving and be stuck with a criminal record for the rest of their lives, Black said.
"I don't disagree that speeding should be punished appropriately," he said. "But it's not in the same category as DUI or assault and battery."
His bill would have eliminated the 80 mph threshold, making more than 20 mph over the limit the standard for all reckless driving-speeding cases.
Some senators said they didn't like the idea of truckers hurtling down the interstate at up to 89 mph and being guilty only of speeding.
"A vehicle like that travels that speed and goes out of control _ that has the potential to kill a lot of people," said Sen. John Watkins, R-Powhatan.
The bill died on a voice vote.
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