Louisiana Biking Laws Background Information
LA State Bicycle Law History
On June 9, 2008, Dr. Colin Goodier was riding his bike down River Road in Iberville Parish. He was training for his latest pursuit—a triathlon. Dr. Goodier was a man of many interests. He was an M.D. by trade, and was in the process of completing his third year as a surgery resident at LSU. He was also a baseball player in high school and an avid golfer, among many other hobbies. Being a triathlete was the next goal for a very driven and vivacious young man.
Dr. Goodier was riding on a 21-mile portion of River Road that was designated a bicycle training route. The road was so designated following the deaths of two cyclists in 2002, and it was marked with “Share the Road” signs. Nevertheless, Dr. Goodier was struck from behind by a truck and killed. He was only 28, the prime of his life.
The death of Dr. Goodier brought home to the Goodier family how little protections then existed for bike riders in Louisiana. Even though a local Baton Rouge cycling association, the Tiger Cycling Foundation, had taken measures to secure protections for Baton Rouge riders, those protections did not extend into Iberville Parish where Dr. Goodier was hit. There was clearly a need for statewide bicycle laws that would prevent motorists from striking bicyclists.
Legislative Changes to the Louisiana Highway Regulatory Act of 1962 Result in Protection for Bikers Statewide.
Before 2008, the only state laws that addressed cyclists were passed in the Louisiana Highway Regulatory Act of 1962. The act was enacted as Chapter 1 of Title 32 of the Louisiana Revised Statutes. Title 32 is entitled “Motor Vehicles and Traffic Regulation.” The act provided general provisions for the operation of bicycles. For instance, La. R.S. 32:193 provides that all “regulations applicable to bicycles shall apply whenever a bicycle is operated upon any highway or upon any path set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles,” subject to certain exceptions. The very next section, La. Rev. Stat. 32:194, provides that “[e]very person riding a bicycle upon a highway of this state shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this [Act].” In a nutshell, bicycles are to be treated, under law, just like motor vehicles when riding upon state roads. That Chapter also contained certain prohibitions aimed at bicyclists (e.g. no clinging to other vehicles), and remained relatively unchanged for the intervening decades.
Until 2008, these provisions failed to fully address the interactions of cyclists and motorists on the roadway. First of all, motor vehicles are capable of driving at much higher speeds than cyclists. Second, on a 2-lane highway like River Road, where the speed limit is typically 25-35 miles per hour, long stretches do not allow passing at all, and there is no shoulder, motor vehicles are forced to choose between riding behind a cyclist at the cyclist’s speed or to risk passing the cyclist. In addition this mix of ambiguous legal duties is the all-too-common attitude of many motorists that cyclists are an obstacle to motor traffic and should not be on the road. In this situation, the motorist is more likely to pass the cyclist very closely at high speeds, perhaps in an irritated or angry manner. The laws as they existed in 2008 were woefully inadequate to protect cyclists in these interactions.
And so, following the death of their son, the Goodier family lobbied the Louisiana state legislature for stronger cyclist protections. Along with the Goodier family, the officers of the Tiger Cycling Foundation, who had been instrumental in passing local laws to strengthen cyclist protections (including the designation of the training loop referenced above), drafted a version of a law that had recently passed in Tennessee. That law mandated that motorists give cyclists on state roadways a 3-foot berth when passing. Their collective actions culminated in a bill authored by state Representative Michael Jackson entitled “The Colin Goodier Bicycle Protection Act.”
The bill, 2009 Louisiana House Bill (HB) 725, went through several changes in the legislative process. At first, the bill added a new statute to Title 32, Chapter 1 of the Louisiana Revised Statutes. That statute, Section 76.1, is entitled “Limitations on passing bicycles.” Its purpose, as originally drafted in April 2009, was to prescribe the approved method for a motorist to overtake and pass a bicyclist traveling on a roadway and to provide penalties for failing to pass by the prescribed method.
Louisiana Law Protects Bicyclists (Bikers) from Harassment, Thrown Objects, and Road Rage
One amendment was proposed to the bill by the House Committee on Transportation, Highways and Public Works. The committee wished to prohibit harassing and throwing objects at bicyclists, and provide a penalty. The amendment became Section 201 of Title 32. As amended, the bill passed both houses and was signed by the Governor as Act No. 147 and became effective August 15, 2009.
During the 2010 legislative session, several legislators proposed separate bills concerning additional bicycle-related issues. Representative Damon Baldone proposed HB 298, that would have allowed persons riding bicycles upon a road with an improved shoulder the option of riding on the improved shoulder. It was enacted as Act No. 840. Representative Wayne Waddell proposed HB 1121 requiring bicycles to have rear flashing lights, which would be merged into HB 298. Representatives Williams and Leger proposed HB 1125 to provide for the creation of a “Share the Road” license plate and the Louisiana Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Fund. That bill was enacted as Act No. 840. Most significantly, a group of representatives proposed HB 1137, a bill containing a range of changes to the laws relative to bicycles, including changes to the statute (Section 76.1) enacted the previous year. HB 1137 was enacted as Act No. 618. The following year, the House would enact another bill making further changes.