CHICAGO – Legislation signed into law last month reinforces the legal understanding that bicyclists have the same right-of-way traffic rights as any other vehicle - rights they already had, said a Chicago attorney who maintains a popular cycling advocacy website.
"I don't think it changes anything," said James M. Freeman, of Freeman Kevenides, a personal injury law firm representing and advocating for bicyclists, pedestrians and vulnerable road users. "The law was already clear that bicyclists are entitled to all the rights and responsibilities of the driver of a motor vehicle. Perhaps I don't understand the bill, but my impression is that it doesn't make a substantive change to existing law."
Freeman also maintains the online Chicago Bicycle Advocate.
Freeman pointed to existing Illinois statute, which does seem to provide right-of-way rights to cyclists.
"Traffic laws apply to persons riding bicycles," the Illinois statute reads. "Every person riding a bicycle upon a highway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this Code, except as to special regulations in this Article XV and except as to those provisions of this Code which by their nature can have no application."
The new legislation, formally known as House Bill 5912 and popularly known as "Dennis’ Law", was signed by Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner Aug. 12 after having received strong support in the General Assembly. The law is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1.
The new legislation's designation as “Dennis' Law” arises out of a Kane County judge's ruling in the May 2015 fatality in which 68-year-old Hampshire resident Dennis Jurs was killed in a collision with a vehicle. The judge dismissed the citation issued against the driver who failed to yield the right of way to Jurs, saying a bicycle is not a vehicle.
"It is my belief that the judge actually made a bad call under existing law," Freeman said. "There is a line of cases which draw distinctions between bicyclists and 'motor vehicles' mainly for purposes of the DUI provisions of the motor vehicle code, but that distinction has not been made with respect to bicycles and 'vehicles.' Besides that, the existing law is fairly clear on the issue of bicycles being granted all the rights of the driver of a (motor) vehicle under the motor vehicle code."
Dennis’s Law clarifies that Illinois bicyclists are entitled to all the same rights in traffic situations involving the right-of-way as the drivers of motor vehicles, another Chicago attorney who advocates for cyclists rights said in recent press release.
"Previous to this change, there was a conflict as to whether a bicycle was considered a 'vehicle' under Illinois law and was therefore entitled to the right-of-way between vehicles," wrote Michael Keating, of the Keating Law Offices, of Chicago, who maintains the online cycling advocacy website Illinois Bicycle Lawyers. "Since the prior right-of-way laws in Illinois referenced 'vehicles' there was an issue as to whether the right-of-way laws explicitly applied to bicyclists. This change in Illinois bicycle law makes it absolutely clear that bicycles are 'vehicles' as defined in the Illinois Vehicle Code and that motorists must provide the right-of-way to bicycles when the bicyclist is entitled to the right-of-way."