California Cyclists Will Get 3-Foot Buffer Under New Law

Current law does not specify the amount of distance drivers should keep when passing bicyclists

By Laura Olson
|  Tuesday, Sep 24, 2013  |  Updated 2:51 PM EDT
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Gov. Jerry Brown announced Monday he has signed legislation requiring California drivers to stay at least 3 feet away when passing bicyclists. Bob Redell reports.

Gov. Jerry Brown announced Monday he has signed legislation requiring California drivers to stay at least 3 feet away when passing bicyclists. Bob Redell reports.

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Gov. Jerry Brown announced Monday he has signed legislation requiring California drivers to stay at least 3 feet away when passing bicyclists.

The proposal from Assemblyman Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, 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 law will go into effect Sept. 16, 2014. Current law requires a driver to keep a safe distance when passing a bicyclist but does not specify how far that is.

At least 22 states and the District of Columbia define a safe passing distance as a buffer of at least 3 feet, according to a legislative analysis of the bill.

Bradford's bill, AB1371, 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 also drew support from several cyclist groups, such as the California Association of Bicycling Organizations.

"This gives clear information to drivers about passing at a safe distance,'' said Steve Finnegan, government affairs manager for the Automobile Club of Southern California, which supported the legislation. "Everyone using the road needs to follow the rules and watch out for everyone else.''

Brown signed the legislation after vetoing similar measures in 2011 and 2012. Those bills would have allowed drivers to cross a double-yellow line to make room for a cyclist or required them to slow to 15 mph when passing within 3 feet.

The governor cited concerns that the provisions could spark more crashes or make the state liable for collisions resulting from a driver crossing a yellow dividing line.

Some lawmakers who opposed the bill, such as Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, said it would be difficult to estimate a 3-foot distance while driving, especially when cyclists also might be swerving to avoid road hazards.

Bradford's spokesman, Matt Stauffer, said case-by-case enforcement will be up to local police departments. The overall aim is to remind drivers and cyclists that they have a responsibility to behave safely on the road, Stauffer said.

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.

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