Breaking: Governor Jerry Brown Sides with AAA and CHP, Vetoes SB 910

SB 910 Veto Message

Supporting vague driving standards that endanger California’s cyclists is no longer a partisan issue.  S.B. 910, which would have mandated a three foot passing cushion when drivers pass cyclists at speeds over 15 miles per hour was universally supported by Democrats in the Assembly and Senate. But that didn’t stop Governor Jerry Brown from vetoing S.B. 910 because he was worried that mandating that drivers slow down to fifteen miles per hour before passing a cyclist or asking them to pass at at least a three foot distance would create either rear-end collisions or long lines of traffic.

Advocates of safe driving laws pointed out that in the 20 states that have similar laws, there has not been one case cited where a crash was caused by a motorist adhering to the law.  But that wasn’t good enough for Brown, which isn’t surprising since his veto statement also implies that its more important to keep motor vehicle traffic moving than it is to protect the safety of cyclists.

Senator Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) was similarly confused by the Governor’s veto and the incoherent logic behind it.

Obviously I am disappointed with the veto, but I am also a bit confused. It appears the Governor’s biggest concern with the bill revolved around the 15 MPH provision. However, that provision actually made it easier for a  motorist to pass a cyclist and allowed for a much smoother flow of traffic. The Governor seems to be advocating for a strict, minimum three foot buffer in which a motorist cannot pass, under any circumstances unless that pass can be made with at least three feet between the motorist and the cyclist. I agree that that would be safer for the cyclist, but it would not, in any way address the concerns the Governor raised in the veto.

The California Bike Coalition, who had championed the law from drafting through passage, was equally blunt.  Jim Brown, the Coalition’s Communications Director, writes,

The Governor had that chance to take the bold step of giving California drivers clearer guidance on how to share the road with bicyclists, with all the benefits that come from enabling more Californians to safely choose bicycling as everday transportation. Instead, he showed that he doesn’t fully understand why existing law is so inadequate and what this bill would do. As a result, drivers will continue guessing about how to much clearance to give bicyclists and those who get it wrong will continue injuring and killing bicyclists.

Another prominent backer of the legislation, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa also issued a statement critical of the Governor’s decision.

I am very disappointed that this practical and prudent legislation was vetoed today by the Governor. By bringing much-need clarity to California’s Vehicle Code, the Three Foot Passing Law would have defined the proper code of conduct as well as the rights and responsibilities of all motorists and bicyclists. Despite this setback, I along with Lance Armstrong and the entire cycling community remain committed to ensuring the safety of everyone traveling on our roads and highways each and everyday.

So the Governor of California listened to the California Highway Patrol and vetoed a crucial piece of bike safety legislation.  It’s too bad that he doesn’t read Streetsblog of he would know that the California Highway Patrol doesn’t understand basic bike safety laws already on the books, to say nothing of the agency’s understanding of proposed legislation.

49 thoughts on Breaking: Governor Jerry Brown Sides with AAA and CHP, Vetoes SB 910

  1. This is sooo disappointing!! Why, Gov. Brown, why? It shows how much more work we need to do in organizing at the state level. Let’s start with a bike ride for the Governor!

  2. I don’t get his logic at all. He vetoed because if the driver can’t pass a cyclists with 3ft, the driver would be required to slow down to do that?  You shouldn’t be passing if you can’t do it with 3ft.

  3. @weshigh:disqus Of course it’s illogical: that’s what happens when you try to make excuses in the name of safety for what is purely about the almighty car traffic flowing. How can we fix our problems when we can’t even admit that we are putting motorist convenience over cyclist safety? Most people know it’s not politically acceptable anymore to admit this, so they try to come up with excuses like there will be more rear-end collisions, even though all examples of the 3-ft law being implemented have shown this is not the case. And that’s where you start twisting your logic into knots.

    As for AAA, there’s a reason a canceled my membership with them. And CHP, well, we all know, they are about as biased as anyone can get towards bicyclists. I was just hoping our governor would stand up to them ….

  4. Go Jerry Brown!

    I’ve had quite enough of special interest gimmick laws like SB 910.

    Mandating cars suddenly slow down to 15 m.p.h. if the bicyclist doesn’t give them three feet of space will create a serious road hazard.

  5. If that were true, we’d have an epidemic of rear end crashes with postal jeeps, street sweepers, and garbage trucks.  But we don’t.

  6. Using the governor’s, AAA’s and the CHP’s logic, cars should no longer yield to pedestrians in crosswalks on arterials as drivers may suddenly slow to zero mph in order to let a pedestrian cross.

  7. “On other roads, a bicycle may travel at or near 15 mph creating a long line of cars behind the cyclist.”

    There’s already a law that prevents that: CVC 21656: “On a two-lane highway where passing is unsafe… a slow-moving vehicle…behind which five or more vehicles are formed in line, shall turn off the roadway…”

    Apparently, Caltrans and the CHP are unaware of this law.

  8. Lowenthal is spot on.  Basically, the part of the legislation the Governor objected to was the part that fixed his objection.  It had to be a reading comprehension problem as the clock was ticking.  Villaraigosa mentioned at ThinkBike a week ago that when he talked to Brown, the Governor hadn’t yet seen the bill.

    This also goes to show that what matters at the end of the day is who is in the room when decisions are made.  When the Governor is deciding what to do, it’s his staff (CHP and Caltrans) that are by his side, not the CBC.

    The final bill (after amendments) was a 3-foot passing law with a 15 mph exception.  It’s clear from the Governor’s statement that he simply didn’t understand what was in front of him, which is pretty spectacular given the guy was previously Attorney General.

    At a fundamental level, different Governors have different styles for involvement in lawmaking.  Some are deferential to the legislature, only vetoing clear excesses.  Some are hands-on shaping bills before they arrive at their desk.  Governor Brown seems to be passive-aggressive in not getting involved when changes can be made and then vetoing over quibbles.  If he wants to exercise broad discretion over every detail of legislating, then it is his responsibility to engage during the process with lawmakers and interest groups.  He did not do his due diligence in this case–I hope it’s not representative of his broader policy capability.

    For the CBC: Has there been any offer from the Governor’s office to work on language that would be acceptable to him next session?

  9. well this just proves the only safe way to ride is to TAKE THE LANE, the the government will not allocate you your safe space, MAKE THEM CHANGE LANES. Remember someone honking at you can see you. 

    TAKE THE LANE, TAKE YOUR 3 FEET YOU’ll BE SAFER FOR IT!

  10. Thanks Gov. Brown I now look forward to riding in the middle of the lane on every single street I ride on that doesn’t have a bike lane. If a driver isn’t obligated to give me safe space than I am no longer going to risk my safety to give up any space for their convenience.

    Auto drivers prepare to have to go a lot slower now anyways, honk all you want but it won’t change a thing.

  11. Governor Brown:

    Slowing to 15mph does not cause rear-end collisions. People driving their cars into the backs of other cars is what causes rear-end collisions.

    Today, I’m absolutely disgusted with you.

  12. Speaking personally: I’ve been hit twice this year while biking (and bikes totaled both times). Three strikes and you’re out, they say….  I don’t want to be “out”.

    The status quo is pretty bad out there.

  13. Interestingly, there is precedence for the passing of stopped buses, streetcars, electric trolley buses:

    21756. (a) The driver of a vehicle overtaking any interurban
    electric or streetcar stopped or about to stop for the purpose of
    receiving or discharging any passenger shall stop the vehicle to the
    rear of the nearest running board or door of such car and thereupon
    remain standing until all passengers have boarded the car or upon
    alighting have reached a place of safety, except as provided in
    subdivision (b) hereof.
    (b) Where a safety zone has been establilshed or at an
    intersection where traffic is controlled by an officer or a traffic
    control signal device, a vehicle need not be brought to a stop before
    passing any interurban electric or streetcar but may proceed past
    such car at a speed not greater than 10 miles per hour and with due
    caution for the safety of pedestrians.
    (c) Whenever any trolley coach or bus has stopped at a safety zone
    to receive or discharge passengers, a vehicle may proceed past such
    trolley coach or bus at a speed not greater than 10 miles per hour.

  14. Nice job governer – really, good job pandering to CHP and AAA.  As other people have indicated, there’s no logical reason why you’d reject this masure, except that you want cyclist to ‘take the lane’ rather than be passed safely.  Here’s to me taking the lane and obstructing traffic more than common courtesy requires, as it seems that motorist are not required to provide any safe passage to othe road users.

  15. Sorry to hear that you vetoed this bill Gov Brown. I have supported you since the beginning, I even still have my “Brown for President” button. But it looks like you bowed to pressure once again. My support of you may dwindle now. Interesting point, I did a 900 mile bike ride this summer in Idaho, Washington, and Canada. The closest I got to being hit by a vehicle was a motorhome from California, of well.

  16. Okay, it IS the responsibility of every *!EVERY!* motorist out there to drive safely; so slowing to 15mph to pass a bicycle should not result in rear-end collisions (this speaks of the mindless driver mentality that basically reads, “Get outta my way, I’m driving here!”).  I do, however, have an issue with the idea of 15mph . . . REALLY, 15?  Can’t be 25?  There are more than a few riders out there who WON’T GET PASSED at 15mph!  I myself can maintain 16-18 on my fat-tired bike for more than say, a hundred yards.

  17. Given the bounty of evidence supplied from other states that the support such a bill, I am inclined to agree. Other forces at work here. The big question for cycling: how do we become one of those forces. Letter writing obviously isn’t enough.

  18. @twitter-78374370:disqus – if the only way to get respect is to be a big force, that’s a sad statement on how our society treats the little guy.

  19. All operators of vehicles on the roadway are required to maintain a sufficient distance with the vehicle in front of them so as to ensure that the operator can come to a complete stop without hitting the vehicle in front. Period. CHP can and does cite operators for that (commonly known as, “tailgating”). Thus, CHP is lying through its teeth by misrepresenting to the governor that this law would cause more accidents, at least if CHP was doing its job to enforce the current law against tailgating. AAA is an auto lobby first and foremost; the roadside assistance is a hook to get people to give it money and for it to claim broad support. The Better World Club, http://www.betterworldclub.com, provides roadside assistance not only for cars at the same price as AAA, but bikes too.

  20. Too bad Jerry Brown can’t run again, because now it doesn’t matter (and thus he doesn’t care) if he loses anyone’s vote.

  21. I assume you have a bike.  Please go out onto the road, ride 15 mph near the right-edge, and ask someone in a car to pass you with a 2 foot margin while driving 25 mph.  Bonus points if it’s raining when you do this experiment.  Then report back here.

  22. Excellently stated.  However, it would be a mistake to change any wording when it’s clear he hasn’t read the wording which is there now.  The bill should be re-passed verbatim and sent back to the governor.  After all he didn’t veto it, but rather let it expire.  Force him to make a decision on what has been hashed out already.

  23. Who are these people from the CHP and Caltrans who would promote this kind of idiocy?  I want names.

  24. Coming down the hill on Highway 84 (Woodside Road) yesterday, I encountered exactly this situation: bicyclist (without a helmet) on 35 mph roadway, going approximately 20 mph, no shoulder, plenty of places to pull over . . . but the bicyclist stood on his “rights” and refused to pull out, even when a large number of vehicles piled up behind him.  (Note: Vehicle Code says that when five or more vehicles are behind you, you have to pull out.)  I did not pass him, but I watched in horror as a San Mateo Public Works dumptruck cut into the opposite lane ON A SWITCHBACK to pass him.  Fortunately no accident resulted.  I’m aware that Los Angeles is flat-land, but not all of the state is.  Legislating a 3 foot buffer in this situation would push all attempts at passing into the oncoming lane, locking up this ten mile switchback every time a bicyclist decided to ride down it.  Legislating a “slowing” to 15 mph would create disaster at every turn-out where a bicyclist did do the legal and smart thing and pulled to the side.

  25. With one CHP unit in the Santa Cruz mountains, how do you suggest that this is going to get enforced on a few hundred miles of local mountain roadway?  

  26. Clearly written by someone who can’t imagine a two lane road, which is the default in much of the state.
    Take the whole lane if you need it for your safety, I don’t disagree.  Then obey Vehicle Code and GIVE IT UP when there is a line of five or more vehicles behind you.  How do you know?  Use your mirrors.  If you don’t have mirrors, listen for the angry honking.

    I am sick and tired of bicyclists demanding rights without showing responsibility as operators.  

  27. Caltrans and CHP are quite aware of this law.  The problem is enforcement.  The bicyclists either don’t know or don’t care.  As I said above, I was in precisely this situation yesterday.  Responsible riding supports responsible driving.

  28. Correct.  On shared-use high speed roadway and mountain downhills especially.  Postal jeeps pull off the road and use hazards religiously.  Street sweepers and garbage trucks have flashing lights.  All three are driven by professional, experienced drivers who handle this particular hazard every day.  A teenage bike rider or weekend would-be cyclist has no concept of the hazard they create for other drivers through inane riding and failure to understand and follow the basics of California Vehicle Code.  Wrong-way riding, sidewalk riding, aggressive driving, swerving at cars and playing “chicken” with their own lives, disregarding stop signs and yield signs and red lights . . . before we put another law into effect on drivers, let’s put some teeth into the laws on cyclists.  Lose your license to ride, get off Caltrans funded roadway.  Play on city streets and leave the arterials and regional roads to the competent.

  29. I am very familiar with how this is applied in urban San Francisco.  Shared-use streetcars take the inner lanes and passengers get in and out of MUNI trains walking across the outer lane.  Where a safety zone is established, passengers have a waiting area mid-street, and signage is posted requiring either a 10mph (per this law) or where surveys support, 15mph slowing when trolley is present.  This is not analogous or applicable to passing bicyclists on rural roadway.

  30. @Drewkitty, right now countless vehicle code violations are being ignored by CHP and traffic police even when witnessed.  At least this would give those few who would enforce it the measuring tool they need.

  31. @drewkitty:twitter  We’ve all gotten stuck behind people who don’t pull out when we’d like them to.  In my case it’s frequently cars when I ride my bike down Hwy 84 toward Woodside. And we all get stuck behind RVs and trucks that simply can’t corner well. 

    But what you’re missing is that this bill would have made it legal to cross over a double yellow to pass a cyclist (provided the other lane is clear and it’s safe). Under current law, you’d be required to wait until there was enough room in the lane to pass the bike.  Unless your solution would be to knock the bike off the roadway, so you could get down the hill, say 3 minutes faster.

  32. What are you talking about? The now-vetoed legislation in question had nothing to do with the CVC requirement for a road user to pull over and let faster moving traffic pass if one is holding up five or more vehicles behind themselves. If this is not the case then it is up to the operator of the faster moving vehicle to find a safe way to pass, which this legislation would have actually HELPED with by legally allowing them to cross over a double yellow line (which most respectful motorists already do, on up and downhills, when there is a clear view of oncoming traffic and not in a blind curve – I still don’t ever understand that maneuver and always brace for impact when I see it happening).

    While the cyclist in your story was in the wrong by holding up so many other vehicles, so was the truck driver for passing dangerously. However, I am very confused by the details as while the straight parts of the road may have been signed at 35mph, I can’t believe that a tight switchback would be more than 15-20mph, so if a dump truck was trying to pass in that situation they must have been exceeding the speed limit, exacerbating their already dangerous behavior. If, in an alternate universe where SB 910 passed, a cyclist had an opportunity to pull into a turn-out and let the faster traffic pass, the motorists would then have been able to easily do so with well more than 3 feet between themselves and the cyclist in the turn-out, at whatever speed they pleased. Just like considerate people already do, for the most part.

  33. Read the law – Vehicles only pull off into approved turnout or where safe to do so.  Was there a turnout?

  34. Don’t blame Caltrans. They have bike people on staff, and a lot of their staff in the big districts bike (because they are located in downtown areas and charge an arm and a leg for parking). 

  35. “There are more than a few riders out there who WON’T GET PASSED at 15mph”

    If the cyclist is traveling at more than 15mph, then the driver simply needs to give 3ft clearance in order to pass.

  36. I think maybe we cyclists don’t get it. The veto is not about 3ft or 15mph, it is that a Governor (for some strange political reason) can’t sign every bill. He has to have some percent veto. As it is Brown vetoed less than most Governors have. This Bill was a “safe” veto as traffic does what it does, regardless of the law. (Seen any motorists on cell phones lately?) The cycling community is used to being treated 2nd class. (only the poor, the young and excentrics cycle.) A safe veto for the percent. 

  37. So aside from keeping a list of people who take active steps to kill cyclists so we can try them for crimes against humanity when the world comes to its senses, how can we fix this?

    How about “Car must slow to within 10mph of the cyclist’s speed”?  If the car must slow to 15mph then there’s no way to pass a cyclist going more than about 12ish mph, which is about as fast as a fat slob goes on his 1-day-per-decade joyride (or a heavily loaded tourer…).  The law seems to have been written by people who are completely ignorant of cycling.  I’m surprised a bicycle advocacy group championed it.

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