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New State Law Makes It Clear: Cyclists Have The Same Rights As Vehicles

By Stephen Gossett in News on Aug 22, 2016 3:41PM

Photo Credit: John W. Iwanski

Illinois bicyclists have the same legal rights on the road as vehicles. This was already the law of the land, but a new state law further clarifies and punctuates that fact.

Attorney Michael Keating, of Keating Law Offices, PC, helped draft House Bill 5912, which was signed into law early last week. He told Chicagoist the law makes two key clarifications: a bicycle is “absolutely a vehicle” under the Illinois Vehicle Code; and it elucidates the statute related to right-of-way situations, stating that “when appropriate,” a bicycle is entitled to the same rights as a vehicle.

Despite existing protections in the vehicle code, the law was necessitated by a case in which a judge dismissed charges against a driver who fatally struck a cyclist in May of last year. Driver James Connor was charged with failure to yield after he hit and killed bicyclist Dennis Jurs, 68. The collision occurred in an intersection at which Connor had a stop sign, but Jurs did not. But Judge Donald Tegeler Jr. threw out the charge against the driver, citing contradictory appellate court rulings in previous bicycle-rights cases.

The law, which passed the General Assembly with only vote of opposition and takes effect next year, states that “every person riding a bicycle upon a highway shall be granted all of the rights” granted to vehicles.

“Highway,” Keating points out, “as used in the Vehicle Code, is much more general, than we use colloquially.” In legal terms, it does not mean, say, expressway. “Legally speaking, it’s more akin to how we informally use the term ‘roadway.’”

The law was passed just days before two cyclists were fatally struck in Chicago. Lisa Kuivinen, 20, was killed on Tuesday when the driver of an 18-wheel flatbed truck struck Lisa while the victim was riding in the bike lane on a busy leg of Milwaukee Ave. Francisco Cruz, 58, was killed in a hit-and-run collision the very next night, on Wednesday, in West Garfield Park. Two more cyclists were killed on Chicago roads earlier this summer: Virginia Murray, 25, was fatally hit in July while riding a Divvy in Avondale. Courier Blaine Klingenberg, 29, was hit and pinned underneath a double-decker tour bus, north of the Magnificent Mile in June.

Keating declined to comment on those cases in particular, but added, “generally speaking, any traffic incident going forward in which the bicyclist is operating under the law, this will absolutely help the cyclist. Now there is no confusion, no discrepancy.”

“It is absolutely clear that a bicyclist is entitled to the right of way.”

Jim Merrell, Advocacy Director of Active Transportation Alliance, sounded a note of appreciation. “We appreciate all of the hard work done by our friends in the legal field to strengthen bicyclist and pedestrian safety,” he told Chicagoist.

Merrell published an impassioned and moving post on Friday in the wake of the most recent deaths. “I’m…disgusted and angered by the relentless victim blaming on social media and news website comments,” he wrote. “There but for the grace of God go I.” With the passage of this law, perhaps a greater understanding that bicyclists do indeed possess the same legal rights as vehicles will lead to fewer collisions.