Coffee with a Cop: Thanks

Enormous gratitude is extended to McDonald’s and the Department of Public Safety for their community support at Tuesday’s “Coffee with a Cop” event. The great DPS turnout and show of community concern and respect is commendable.

The format was informal, open table discussions of citizen concerns and issues, which enabled those talks to be more personal and extended. However, it did not allow those at other tables to participate in them. I recommend this as an annual event, and next time try a more open forum Q&A that allows everyone to hear and participate in the issues brought up. I also recommend more citizens to take advantage of this unique opportunity to be informal and personal with those that provide for your safety.

The concerns and suggestions I discussed with one DPS officer there are shared by many, and outlined here because its importance is what everyone should be aware of.

Over four years ago, our governor signed Ralph Demapan’s three-foot bill, House Bill 18-19, into law. This states that motorists must be at least three feet away from the bicyclists they pass. This law is designed to make the CNMI a safe place to ride, and encourage more biking for transportation and recreation.

With the CNMI’s rapidly increasing number of vehicles and health problems related to too little exercise, safe cycling needs to be enforced in order to promote the CNMI as a safe place to both ride and visit. Islands magazine rated Saipan as one of the top three islands in the world for recreation. Enforcement of the three-foot law would help keep that recognition and encourage more cycling.

While DPS provides extensive and excellent support for organized bicycle races, their support needs to be extended to all cyclists all the time. Also, while there’s a lot done to enforce drunk driving and seatbelt laws with traffic stops, billboards, and radio ads from federal funding, no federal funds for bicycling safety results in very little attention other than a few “Share The Road” signs in the same location. Yet a cyclist getting hit by a vehicle should be as important and as much of a concern because the result could as easily, and more likely, result in death.

With the way drivers drive, their right-of-way mentality, and lack of awareness of driving laws, it’s just a matter of time before a cyclist is killed by a vehicle. Public awareness of cycling safety, sharing the road, and enforcement of the three-foot law would reduce the likelihood of that happening again. That was the point of my DPS discussion and of this letter.

Cycling safety suggestions include more bike safety signs and billboards around the island similar to what we have for drunk driving and “Click It or Ticket” that clearly indicate the minimum three feet distance law. Another is for DPS to ticket motorists who don’t comply with this law. Following any biker for any amount of time could easily result in numerous tickets as so few drivers follow or even know about this law. As such, it would also increase awareness, cycling, and the government’s budget for additional enforcement efforts. It could even result in fewer cars on the road, which is now also needed. A win-win for all. This three-foot law should also be a test question for new licenses and made clear to anyone renting cars.

With cyclists preparing for the Dec. 2 annual around the island Hell of the Marianas bike race, now is the time to be extra vigilant and considerate of bikers and the law. And during that race, dog owners along the race route are asked to please keep them tied up. Thanks!

Paul Plunkett
Dandan, Saipan

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