STONY BROOK, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Drivers in Suffolk County now have to give bicyclists extra room on the road.

A new county law signed Tuesday is the first of its kind in the state. Fines for offenders are stiff because the legislation is meant to save lives, CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan reported.

Martin and Elyse Buchman own Stony Brookside Bed and Bike Inn. As avid cyclists they have had their share dangerous encounters with cars.

“I was hit and taken away by ambulance,” Martin said.

“People don’t account for their sideview mirrors,” Elyse added.

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Suffolk County consistently ranks among New York’s most deadly for bicyclists. But now with a new law signed outside the Bed and Bike Inn, the county has become the first in the state to fine drivers hundreds of dollars for failing to give cyclists at least three feet of space when passing them.

“Giving a cyclist a three-foot buffer allows them the opportunity to swerve if they have to avoid an unexpected obstacle in their path,” said Legislator Kara Hahn, who sponsored the bill.

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When asked what happens if a driver crosses a solid white or double yellow line, attorney Daniel Flanzig said, “The law does not automatically prohibit you from crossing over double yellow line, if you need to make a safe pass. It is in the vehicle and traffic law.”

Bicyclists have obligations, too, like wearing a helmet and reflective clothing, obeying traffic laws, and staying to the extreme right single file.

Studies show careless distracted drivers going too fast are mostly responsible for the nation’s growing bicycle death toll. Nearly 700 riders were killed last year, including, in our area, a doctor, a nurse, a fiance, and a child.

“Once people realize that they are supposed to give bikes some distance, then people start changing their habits,” said Neal Pasoff of Campus Bicycle of Stony Brook.

“The best answer is to build as many bicycle and mixed-use paths as possible,” Martin Buchman said.

County Executive Steve Bellone points to the Greenway, Rails to Trails, and Hike and Bike, and added that under a master plan, as infrastructure is rebuilt, “If we do this the right way, we can have a totally different environment for bicycling in this county.”

Violating the three-foot law begins with a $225 fine and can reach $425 for a repeat offender.

The Suffolk County Police Department said officers will be on high alert in areas frequented by bicyclists to ensure motorists are complying with the new law.

Jennifer McLogan