By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – A pair of bicycle safety bills named for a deceased Tupelo teen passed both the state House and Senate this week.
The John Paul Frerer Bicycle Safety Act requires motorists to provide a three-foot buffer when passing bicyclists along the road and penalizes those who harass, taunt or toss objects at cyclists.
Fines range from $100 for a first offense to $2,500 and seven days in jail for the third offense.
The act also requires bicyclists to ride in the right-hand lane with no more than two abreast.
“Across the state, all cyclists were extremely thrilled to get this far,” said Oxford resident Karen Mogridge, the executive director of Bike Walk Mississippi. “Last year we weren’t able to get this far. We got a large amount of support from senators and representatives who realize that laws on the books like this will increase safety in a number of different ways.”
Bicycle safety has been a hot issue in Northeast Mississippi for years, but especially since the August 2009 death of Tupelo teen John Paul Frerer.
The 18-year-old was struck by a truck while riding along Highway 6 from Tupelo to Oxford. The act is named in his honor.
“I think the best thing that can be done is to raise general awareness among the driving public as to the need to be careful around cyclists,” said Tupelo cyclist Barry Walker. “This bill and the subsequent law may not prevent every accident, but in the long term it will reduce accidents.”
The House and Senate bills, which were introduced by a combined 10 legislators, are nearly identical. The House bill now goes to the Senate, and the Senate bill now goes to the House.
If passed, the John Paul Frerer Bicycle Safety Act will go to Gov. Haley Barbour to be signed into law. It would take effect July 1.
Tupelo passed a similar ordinance two months ago, but it applies only within the city limits. The legislative act would apply statewide.
Renee Autumn Ray, the city’s senior planner who helped push the local ordinance, said the legislative interest will help raise awareness everywhere.
“The publicity we’ll get from articles and the passing of the law,” Ray said, “will do a lot to improve public safety for bicyclists and pedestrians on our road.”
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or firstname.lastname@example.org.