APD using ultrasonic radar to catch drivers who get too close to bicycles

Austin bike officers checking distance between cars and bikes (KXAN Photo)
Austin bike officers checking distance between cars and bikes (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — You may have noticed more bicycles on the road on Friday, for the city’s Bike to Work Day. Bike Austin estimates more than 2,500 people participated, in an effort to continue making Austin more cyclist friendly.

With an ongoing effort to get more cyclists on the roads and make sure drivers are following the law, we wanted to make sure drivers know what’s legal in sharing those roads.

“I’ve had a van’s side mirror clip my shoulder,” Kevin Gutknecht says. He commutes with his bike in Austin and in the 10 years he’s been doing it, he’s had close calls.

“I was actually in the bike lane, the van kind of got too close, and just clipped me.”

Austin police say when they’re out patrolling, it’s only one of the big issues.

“There’s a few main things, one which would be the unsafe passing, we still continue to see a lot of motorists on their phone, and obviously when they’re on their phone and they’re passing a cyclist, they may not see them, so that’s a danger,” Rheannon Cunningham, a police officer with the Bike Program says. “The other thing is, when a car passes a cyclist, and they need to make a right hand turn, they have to allow for that cyclist to pass safely.”

Officers say there’s a simple way to gauge if you’re three feet from a cyclist. As you approach them, imagine the center line of your body to the end of you fingertip and if you’re any closer, you can expect a ticket if police catch you.

They use ultrasonic radar to catch those who may break the law.

“As they come by, this display is reading out in inches how closely they’re passing, if it goes under 36, it will set off an alarm,” Cunningham says. The bike officers will then radio a nearby patrol car with the licence plate of the offending vehicle.

One big question drivers have is how do you legally pass a cyclist.

“The safest most clear thing to do would be to change lanes,” Cunningham said. “Look for that opportunity in which you can pass them with enough room there’s no oncoming cars to still give plenty of space.”

One thing police and cyclists agree on is have more patience.

“You’re in a car, it’s not like you’re having to huff and puff your way to where you’re going, you just push down on a pedal, so is it really that big of a deal?” Gutknecht said.

If you get caught by police, chances are you will also be on camera. Officers on bicycles have Go-Pros on their bikes to use as evidence in court.

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