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.

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