Bike Michiana

resources, news, observations and ideas about bicycling in the Michiana area

Indiana Senate Bill 553 “Bicycles and Traffic Safety”

Posted by Paul Taylor on January 19, 2009

Senator John Broden of South Bend has introduced Senate Bill 553, which affects bicycles and traffic safety. It has been read and referred to the Committee on Homeland Security, Transportation & Veterans Affairs.

This bill is a product of the Safety Legislation team formed by Bike Michiana Coalition, and the Indiana Bicycle Coalition.

This is a comprehensive bill that covers a lot of territory.

  • Removed sections are ‘cleanup’ of outdated and redundant language. They will eliminate the requirements that a cyclist must be equipped with a bell, but shall not be equipped with a whistle, and removes the redundant stipulation that a bike may not have a siren. Finally, a cyclist will be allowed to carry a bundle in one hand.
  • Revised and new sections contain important enhancements.

Here is a summary of changes:

  1. A bicycle will be more clearly defined as a vehicle, rather than a device, and will include hand powered cycles (used by some handicapped cyclist) while clearly excluding children’s ride-on toys.
  2. Baby seats and ‘tag-alongs’ are clearly allowed, so long as they are firmly attached. This provision will eliminate ambiguity and increase the allure of family cycling.
  3. It simplifies the language prohibiting cyclist from hitching rides on motor vehicles. (It drops the terms ‘street car’, ‘coaster’, and ‘roller skates’.)
  4. Bicycle brakes will not be required to make the braked wheel skid. (Cyclists fear the front wheel skidding, which it sometimes does on gravel or ice).
  5. The penalty of violating this chapter of the law is increased. It will be a Class C misdemeanor or even a Class B misdemeanor if the cyclist is injured. This means the negligent party could serve jail time, depending on the severity of any injuries.
  6. It increases the visibility of bikes at night by continuing to require a headlight, adding a red tail-light, and adding reflective material visible from the side. It also makes it clear that either light may be steady or flashing. The side visibility rule is not really new, since the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) already requires it for new bikes.
  7. The new law makes it clear that when on a sidewalk or cross walk, a bike has all the rights and privileges of a pedestrian, but must yield to pedestrians.
  8. There are significant changes to turn signals:
    • Stop: cyclists may use either the right or left arm to signal. The old law required that only the left arm be used.
    • Right Turn: riders may continue following the current standard of extending the left hand and arm upward, but now they have the option of extending the right arm to the right.
    • They are no longer required to give the signal continuously for 200 feet.
    • A new provision allows for lane change signals.
  9. The SB 553 has a new bicycle-passing provision modeled after the existing vehicle code, but enhances it for bikes. It:
    • requires that other vehicles must pass with a minimum 3 foot clearance
    • covers cyclist riding in the left lane (for example on a one-way street)
    • Indiana will join 10 other states that have enacted a similar law.
  10. ‘Bicycle Lane’ is defined. A bike lane is designated by pavement markings or signage and can be either part of the roadway or separated from the roadway. It is for the preferential or exclusive use of bicyclists.
    • Motorists may not block the lane, and must yield to bikes that are using it.
    • Cyclists must use the lane when riding on the roadway, but not necessarily when it is obstructed, or when passing or turning.
    • If the bike lane is on the roadway, the rider has the option of riding on a sidewalk, unless prohibited by local ordinance. (This may be preferable for children.)
    • If the bicycle lane is a separate recreational path, the rider has the option of using the roadway. (This is important when riders want to get in some high speed cardio-vascular training and the bike/ped path is being heavily used by walkers and joggers.)
  11. If a bike can’t trip a traffic control sensor, the rider may treat the red light as a flashing red, and proceed through the intersection.
  12. Helmets are required for children seventeen and under. As the SB 553 was being drafted, this was the most controversial topic addressed. The age limit makes it consistent with Indiana motorcycle law. Indiana joins twenty-two other states having similar laws.
  13. Requires a cyclist to carry personal identification listing their name and address, either on their person or attached to the bike. The intent of this section is to allow identification in case the cyclist is not able to communicate.
  14. There is an anti-harassment provision. It will be unlawful to harass, taunt, maliciously throw an object at or in the direction of, or impede any person riding a bicycle.
  15. Children are more clearly defined.
  16. A cyclist may stand and pedal. The old law prohibited that!

Fiscal Impact and Summary:

The Bill, in Full Detail:

Interestingly, another bicycle bill has been introduced and assigned to the same Senate committee. This bill, SB 69 deals only with registration of Motorized Bicycles:

How to contact your Indiana legislators:

Positive feedback to legislators is extremely important. Use the
following Indiana Government Web Site to find your legislator and send
an email expressing your support:

What do you say to your legislator? Here are some thoughts:

  • Your subject line should be the bill number, SB 553.
  • Your first sentence should say that you encourage your legislator to support (or reject) the bill. Or, maybe you support the bill with one or two exceptions.
  • Your following sentences should tell why you support/reject the bill. Keep it short. Your legislator’s staff deals with a lot of bills, and one or two points are enough. The link to the Bike Michiana website above may give you some ideas. Make it personal if you care to, “the traffic light at…”, “my daughter was …”, “I got hit …” Or you may want to say “I agree with most of the bill, but…” (Bear in mind that if our legislators receive many ‘buts’ the bill will probably fail in its entirety). If you have any ‘buts’, I hope you will list them as comments on the Bike Michiana website so that the issue can be discussed in greater detail.
  • Be courteous and respectful, and include your name and address.

9 Responses to “Indiana Senate Bill 553 “Bicycles and Traffic Safety””

  1. Paul Taylor said

    For those of you who may want to follow this bill, this may be a good link:

  2. Adam Bee said

    Here’s what Richmond trial attorney Thomas Kemp had to say:

    I don’t know if he’s right, but he raises a few points that I hadn’t thought of and which we may want to address before the bill gets much further.

  3. Paul Taylor said

    Thanks for the link Adam. We were in a bit of a rush to get the bill filed by the deadline, and did not see the final wording until after it was filed. We know of two problems that we need to address:
    1. There is some double negative wording in the section about bike lanes and sidewalk riding that needs to be fixed.
    2. The penalities are not at all correct. Our intent was to make the penalities stiffer for harassing cyclists, but we ended up with something quite confusing to me. We are still trying to figure it out.
    If you have time to respond on the Richmond site, I would appreciate it. Thanks again.

  4. From all that I’m seeing, these look to be all quite positive changes – moves in the right direction – for all of Michiana… Can’t wait to get biking out again…

  5. Paul Taylor said

    This is a follow-up to my comment of Jan 21. In that post, I said there were two problems with the wording in the bill as it was officially filed. We have contacted Sen. Broden’s Legislative Assistant and brought the problems to his attention. We expect him to file an amendment correcting these problems in the near future.

  6. Jeffrey Haas said

    I find it hard to believe that giving 3 feet of clearance is considered adequate. Strap one of the legislator’s on a bike and drive by at 50mph 3 feet off their left shoulder and see if that changes it. It should be more like 6 feet in my opinion.

  7. Paul Taylor said

    Jeffrey. Thanks for your comment. The current passing law says “at a safe distance”. We’re suggesting that the distance should be not only safe, but “at least 3 feet”. While 6 feet would be better, the team felt that such a provision would never make it through the legislature. We felt that half a loaf is better than none. Three feet is also consistent with several other states who have passed similar legislation.

  8. rod said

    I use Lincolnway from Mishawaka, to Elkhart during the better weather days, usually around 5:45am.
    Just an extra bit of pavement on either side would improve that busy route for a lot of cycle-commuters.

  9. Paul Taylor said

    The bill is slowly moving through the Senate. It has been assigned to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, Transportation, & Veterans Affairs. The bill also now has a second sponsor, Sen. Travis Holdman, a Republican who’s District lies between Fort Wayne and Muncie. This the bill now has bipartisan support.

    The bill will be heard tomorrow, February 10. Two members of the Bike Michiana Coalition’s Legislative Team (Tim Maher and myself) are going down to Indy for the hearing, where we will meet Nancy Tibbett, who is Executive Director of the Indiana Bicycle Coalition. Tim and Nancy will each have about 5 minutes to speak on behalf of the bill.

    The chair of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, Transportation, & Veterans Affairs is Senator Wyss; Sen. Holdman is a member of that committee.

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