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Is It Time for California to Adopt the “3-Feet-Law?”

11:32 AM PDT on August 6, 2009

More and more states are adopting laws that  protect cyclists from passing cars by requiring that cyclists receive a three foot buffer on their left before any vehicle can pass them.  According to a recent USA Today article, fourteen states and the District of Columbia have adopted the three-foot-law and it has already passed one legislative body in New Jersey.

Often times the "Three-Feet-Law" is included in a package of safety laws for .  In Colorado it was accompanied with a law making it illegal to throw bottles at cyclists.  In Wisconsin, it was accompanied by a law spelling out the illegality of "dooring" cyclists, even if it is done "accidently."

Needless to say, California is not one of the states that has the 3-foot-law on the books.  There was an effort in 2006 to pass legislation authored by Assemblyman Nava (D-Santa Barbara) that would have changed state law that currently requires drivers to give cyclists a "safe distance" when passing to one requiring a hard three feet.  However, that legislation died in committee after a lobbying effort from members of the trucking industry and the California Highway Patrol.  The CHP's opposition should come as no surprise after the group charged with keeping our highways safe lobbied against legislation that would help keep speed limits from being raised by speeders and trips over itself to distribute misinformation about cyclists' rights.

The California Bike Coalition summarizes the benefits and limits of the proposed "Safe Passing Law" which was reintroduced by Nava as A.B. 1941 for the current term but isn't expected to move this session:

Defining safe passing distance as three feet is easy to understand andexplain to the public. However, is three feet sufficient to protect acyclist from a potential collision, particularly with a speedingvehicle? This bill would also change the law to allow a person to drivea vehicle in a designated 2-way left-turn lane when overtaking andpassing a bicycle.

According to the California Bike Coalition, there isn't a push to pass a three-foot-law in California at the moment. Even if there was a push for the law, it seems unlikely to get past the Assembly Transportation Committee as it is chaired by speeding traffic and highway expansion advocate Mike Eng (D-Pasadena)

However, that doesn't mean there aren't other safety issues being worked on at the moment.  The Bike Coalition believes that implementation of the state's "Complete Streets" law will make streets safer through proper engineering as towns' circulation plans fall into compliance.  Locally, the Los Angeles County Bike Coalition is looking into "vulnerable user's laws" on the books in other states that set strict mandatory penalties for any driver that crashes into pedestrians or cyclists.

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