California 3 foot buffer bicycle law

September 16, 2014

SACRAMENTO – A California law came into effect today which requires that 3 feet of space be left for bicyclists when driving past them on the road.

The law specifies a requirement that was previously defined only as a rather arbitrary “safe distance”. California will be the 25th state to enact such a law.

However, the law also says that if the road is too narrow to meet this requirement, the vehicle can pass by slowing to a “safe speed”…somewhat reinstating the margin for human error that it was meant to eliminate. If there is a collision under these circumstances, the burden of proof will be upon the driver to demonstrate that they were passing at a safe speed and at a time when it was safe to do so. This would be extremely difficult to do.

Penalty for infraction of this law is a measly $35, trumped by the accompanying court fee of $200 or so. The fine can rise to $233 and court fee to $780 if there is an injury caused by the infraction. Official reports say that the bicyclist death toll in 2012 was 153, which was a moderate increase from 2011 figures.

According to Bike East Bay, the most severe perpetrators can even be permanently taken off the road (the assumption being this is only after repeat infractions).

Resources say that while the CHP is prepared to enforce the new law, it does not foresee a widespread crackdown. Instead, there should be a steady integration of the law. It should also be noted that when it comes to how this law applies to bike lanes, it is not clear if the law applies or not. To know for sure, we will need to wait until a case is taken to court and a judge rules on it, which will create precedence for future enforcement of the law.

Furthermore, the law does not apply to bicycles passing vehicles. It is only when vehicles are passing bicycles that this law is relevant.

Laws designed to protect bicyclists have been gaining steam as of late, with commuters deciding that they’re a worthy alternative to using cars for their daily business.

Supporters of the law believe this will help to clarify how vehicles should be sharing the roads with bicycles. One hopes that it will conversely ease any right-of-way tensions between cyclists and auto drivers.

Anyone interested in reading the full text of the law can do so here.

John Rosenbaum is a California attorney practicing in south Orange County. His success in the fields of personal injury and workers compensation set him apart from other lawyers, with a success rate of 99.7% over his 35+ year career.

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