Family of Slain Rider Wants Drivers to Change Lanes to Pass a Cyclist

Current law requires a driver to keep a safe distance when passing a bicyclist but does not specify distance

View Comments ()
Family members of Matthew O'Neill, a cyclist who was killed in a collision with a vehicle, want to spread the word about a new law going into effect to help protect riders. NBC 7's Steven Luke reports. (Published Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014)

A Chula Vista couple is trying to get the word out about a new law requiring California drivers to stay at least 3 feet away when passing bicyclists.

Michael and Cheri O’Neill’s passion for the change is outweighed only by grief after they lost their 33-year-old son Matthew O’Neill on August 8.

Matthew, an avid cyclist, was riding a quiet Central California road when he was hit by a teenage driver in a pickup truck hauling a horse trailer.

“There’s nothing that’s going to bring him back, but we know he is watching us and he knows that we are going to honor him in a very respectful way” said Cheri O’Neill.

Matthew O'Neill, 33, was a long-distance cyclist who was killed in a collision with a vehicle on Aug. 8, 2014.
Photo credit: Courtesy O'Neill family

The new law is intended to better protect cyclists from aggressive drivers. It states that if drivers cannot leave 3 feet of space, they must slow down and pass only when it would not endanger the cyclist's safety.

The O’Neill family hopes it will make a difference with fewer cycling fatalities, but they also believe it doesn’t go far enough.

“We’d like to see the law amended so they (drivers) can cross the divided highway when safe for passing a bicyclist” said Michael O’Neill.

Earlier versions of the bill that included that provision were vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2011 and 2012. He cited concerns that it may cause more crashes or make the state liable for collisions resulting from a driver crossing a yellow dividing line.

The family started a Facebook page called “Remember Matthew: Change Lanes To Pass A Cyclist”

A memorial service is planned at Chula Vista’s First United Methodist Church at 1200 East H Street on Saturday, August 30th.

The family is encouraging people to ride their bike to the service.

A demonstration with “share the road” signs and others like it will take place along East H Street immediately after the service.

Current law requires a driver to keep a safe distance when passing a bicyclist but does not specify distance.

The proposed law was sponsored by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, an avid cyclist who was injured in 2010 after a taxi driver abruptly pulled in front of him. It was signed into law in September 2013.

The new law goes into effect September 16.

A violation of the new 3-foot requirement would be punishable by fines starting at $35. If unsafe passing results in a crash that injures the cyclist, the driver could face a $220 fine.