In September, Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation that requires motorists to provide a three-foot buffer when passing cyclists. If three feet of space is not available, drivers must slow down to a “reasonable and prudent” speed and only pass the cyclist if there is no reasonable risk of endangering the cyclist’s safety.
The law is intended to crack down on aggressive drivers who try to intimidate cyclists by zipping past them at high speeds or purposely driving too close. Such irresponsible behavior increases the risk of an accident, in which the cyclist is far more likely to suffer serious injuries than the motorist. Violators of the law will face fines starting from $35.
The legislation (AB1371) amends existing law in the California Vehicle Code, which states that drivers must pass cyclists at a safe distance without specifying how far that distance might be. Bicyclist advocates are pleased with the specificity the new law offers as well as the unequivocal message it sends to drivers: cyclists, too, have a right to be on the road.
Detractors, such as Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, claim that drivers won’t be able to accurately assess a three-foot distance while driving, which would cause them to inadvertently break the law. Others point out that the police won’t be able to properly estimate the distance either, making the law too difficult to enforce.
While it’s true that this law may be tricky to enforce, as bicycle accident attorneys who have represented numerous cyclists injured in car-bike collisions, we are nonetheless delighted about the law. At the very least, it forces drivers to think twice about roaring past or tailgating a cyclist.
California has one of highest cyclist fatalities in the country. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the state saw 114 cyclist traffic deaths in 2011, second only to Florida. The California Bicycle Coalition notes that the leading cause of cyclist fatalities is passing-from-behind collisions.
Perhaps with this new law, we will see a drop in car-bike accidents, injuries and deaths. And maybe it’ll provide a much-needed step toward building harmony and respect between motorists and bicyclists on the road.
The law goes into effect September 16, 2014.
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