New Law Requires Drivers To Stay 3 Feet Away When Passing Bicyclists

SACRAMENTO (CBS/AP) — 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.”

Bicyclist Justin Garrett said he has mixed emotions about the law.

“Obviously anything that’s going to help cyclists be safer on the streets, I’m in support of, but there’s some vague wording in the bill. I don’t know that people will know how to react when encountering a cyclist since there will be added pressure of avoiding breaking the law,” he said.

Cyclists at I. Martin Bicycles on Beverly Boulevard were grateful for the bill.

“It’s really great to have a rule that puts in place something where motorists will pay more attention, or hopefully that’s the role,” said Chelsey Hughes.

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.

Some Angelenos agreed.

“I don’t agree it should happen on all streets. I think there should be good paths the bicyclists can use in proper areas,” said Andy Nelli.

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.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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