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

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 and
explain to the public. However, is three feet sufficient to protect a
cyclist from a potential collision, particularly with a speeding
vehicle? This bill would also change the law to allow a person to drive
a vehicle in a designated 2-way left-turn lane when overtaking and
passing 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.

  • Yangmusa

    Given how poorly existing traffic laws are enforced (for example the ban on using cellphones while driving), I doubt that a 3-foot passing law would make any practical difference.

    That said – change comes gradually, and passing a law like this (even if it should be common sense!) is at least a start.

  • This should be low hanging fruit. All it does is clarify existing law — instead of requiring a “safe distance” to pass, all it does is specify what that distance is.

    Yet for some reason, police and trade groups seem to fight it tooth and nail all over the country. You’d think they’d all get behind it, since it removes any confusion about what’s safe, and makes it clear it’s okay to cross divider lines to pass.

  • angle

    In my experience, a “safe passing distance” is interpreted by some drivers as “I didn’t hit the cyclist”. Specifying three feet at least gives everyone a concrete standard of what a safe passing distance is.

  • DJB

    This law would be good if it were enforced and people cared about it. It’s clear that there’s a long way to go.

    Have you ever heard the term “bike nazi”? I have. In a class on transportation planning. It basically means a cyclist who is assertive: riding in a regular traffic lane and “slowing everybody down”. The war for hearts and minds is far from won, even among those who pay attention to these issues.

    Given that a widespread change in popular consciousness is needed for laws like the 3-feet law to have any practical effect, how can this blog and other advocacy get more people’s attention?

  • Eric

    Check out the link below the image of the bike jersey. I’m not normally a big fan of bike jerseys, I thought the “3 feet please” jerseys are really cool and promote safety no matter where you live.

  • e.n

    and just how does the LAPD interpret “a safe distance?”

    i once asked when reporting a road rage incident. the answer is: “if he didnt hit you, it was safe.”



How to Improve 3-Foot Passing Laws

After a couple of vetoes by Governor Jerry Brown, California finally has a 3-foot passing law. As of June, 24 states plus the District of Columbia have such a law, which requires drivers to give cyclists a minimum buffer of 3 feet when passing from behind. With California’s law in effect as of today, Rick Bernardi […]

Push for 3 Foot Passing Law Finds a New Booster

It’s a sign of how far cycling has come in City Hall in a short time.  Could you have pictured a Mayoral press conference where LADOT General Manager Rita Robinson and LAPD Leadership are literally standing in Roadblock’s shadow just a couple of months ago?  Photo: LADOT Bike Blog At least eleven states have laws […]