- Associated Press - Thursday, February 19, 2015

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - State senators are considering a bill to allow cars to pass bicycles in certain circumstances along with other updates to Montana’s bicycle laws.

Republican Rep. Jeff Essmann, of Billings, proposed House Bill 280 in the Senate Highways and Transportation Committee on Thursday.

The proposal would allow cars to pass bicyclists using the left side of a road in no-passing zones as long as the overtaking can be done safely.

Melinda Barnes of Bike Walk Montana said because there are so few bicycle lanes across the state, bicyclists almost always share the roads with motorists.

“It’s essential they’re able to do so safely,” Barnes said. She later added that Essmann’s bill would put Montana bicycle laws on par with traffic safety laws in other states.

Current law has bicyclists ride as far to the right in a line as physically possible. Essmann’s proposal directs them to ride only as far right as they judge to be safe.

Peggy Stringer, a bicyclist in Helena, said in support of the bill that allowing bicyclists to ride further into road lanes updates what is a dangerous law.

“If you hug the right line you tend to have to go in and out of parked cars,” Stringer said, “which makes you more susceptible of being hit because a car will not know where you’re going or what you’re doing.”

Stringer and other bicyclists said it would also make riding on highways without shoulders safer.

The proposal also requires bicyclists to wear lights or reflective strips at night or equip their bikes with them, rather than merely encouraging the safety devices.

The bill passed out of the House on Feb. 7 by a vote of 89-9.

The committee chairman, Sen. Elsie Arntzen, said the committee will take action on the bill in March.

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