California Adds “Three-Foot” Law, then Frets About it

October 2, 2013
By

California recently passed a Three-Foot safe passing law to protect cyclists and other vulnerable users on the road.

This means that if there is not sufficient space to pass a cyclist, drivers will have to wait to allow three feet of room between them and the rider.

It’s amazing that it took this long for the law to come to California, and kudos to Assemblyman Steven Bradford who had the guts to bring this bill to action, so that cyclists can ride more safely there.

We just read about ex-Amazon executive Joy Covey who was killed by a driver in Los Gatos, CA., who executed a left hand turn in front of the cyclist while she was on a 40 mph descent.

Still, even in California, where cyclists are out in large numbers, it’s amazing that it would take them this long to adopt legislation that protects vulnerable users of the roads.

In an article in the Sonoma State Star, Governor of California, Jerry Brown was quoted as expressing concern over the measure.

“Authored by Assemblyman Steven Bradford, the law requires that drivers not only abide by the “three foot rule,” but cannot pass over the double yellow line in order to do so. This means drivers will have to remain at slow speeds like 15 miles per hour to successfully pass cyclists if they are closer than three feet.”

“Although Governor Jerry Brown signed the legislation, he has expressed worry over the possibility of increased collisions involving multiple automobiles.”

 “Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol have raised legitimate concerns about other provisions such as the 15 MPH requirement,” said Brown in a message after is veto of Senate Bill 910, the original version of the law, in 2011. “On streets with speed limits of 35 or 40 MPH, slowing to 15 MPH to pass a bicycle could cause rear end collisions. On other roads, a bicycle may travel at or near 15 MPH creating a long line of cars behind the cyclists.”

But cycling advocates know this is all smoke and mirrors to protect people in cars from changing their habits, and perhaps arriving 5 minutes late for a sit down in front of their favorite TV program.

“The California Bicycle Coalition has compiled evidence showing that 3-foot-passing laws haven’t had any negative impacts on traffic flows in other states that have enacted these laws, and that such laws are actually boosting bicycle ridership and changing driver behavior for the better,” said the CBC.

Another simple way of handling the issue is to do what other states do, which is allow motorists to cross the double yellow when overtaking slower moving vehicles.  Is it really so hard for California to adopt this simple change in habit and law?

Many other states have considered a three-foot passing law, but only 21 have had the guts to pass one.

In New Jersey, a bill for safe passing which was championed by Assemblywoman Grace Spencer and passed in the Assembly, has languished in the Senate due to lawmaker equivocation.

In 1973, Wisconsin became the first state to enact such a law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

As of June 2013, 21 states—Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin—and the District of Columbia have enacted 3-feet passing laws.

Pennsylvania has a 4-feet passing law and Virginia has a 2-feet passing law.  In 19 other states there are general laws that provide that motorists must pass at a “safe distance.” These laws typically state that vehicles must pass bicyclists at a safe distance and speed, but usually are not more specific. New Jersey has no safe passing law at all, not even a mention.

Just consider this, every single French person in France has no problem waiting behind a cyclist before it is time to pass. That’s not only the law, but it’s considered safe driving. Get with the program California drivers!

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  • Andy B from Jersey

    Governor Jerry Brown,
    If “Pennsyltuckey” can manage a “4 foot law” that expressly permits drivers to cross the double yellow line when safe (often on 300+ yo country lanes), I think California can handle it too. No mass chaos or carnage out there in the past year.

    • Jennifer Benepe

      agreed!

  • Andy B from Jersey

    These were my comments on Streetsblog last week:

    Wow! This law doesn’t sound like progress at all. 3-feet is still WAY too close for a car to pass a a person riding a bike AND there is still no provision to allow drivers to legally cross the double yellow to pass a cyclists when it is safe to do so (most safe and sane drivers can and already do this to pass cyclists safely).

    Shallow victory if you ask me.

    • Jennifer Benepe

      Thanks Andy B. You’re right! not sure what bike advocates can do about it, except protest in large numbers and hold up traffic in the morning. What about it?

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