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Proposed bike safety bill requires drivers to 'give 3' when passing cyclists

By Hayley Fox
Published: Wednesday, August 15, 2012, at 01:03PM
Flickr via cyclotourist

The proposed bill would require drivers to give cyclists three feet of spacing when passing them from behind.

A new bicycle safety bill, which would require drivers to give cyclists at least three feet of space when passing them from behind, is poised for a State Assembly vote in the next few weeks. Senate Bill (SB) 1464 is sponsored by the California Bicycle Coalition (CBC) along with the City of Los Angeles, and works to refine the existing law which requires drivers to pass at an undefined "safe distance."

The existing law's "vague wording," according to the Los Angeles Department of Transportation Bike Blog, makes it "difficult to enforce" and leaves "too much room for poor judgement."

This can cause serious safety concerns for cyclists, bill supporters say.

"A pass that occurs too close can startle a bicyclist -- can cause them to fall," said Jim Brown, Communications Director of the CBC. "A lot of drivers simply don't know how to share the road with bicyclists and it's not their fault, it's just that they're not being given any guidance on how to do so."

In addition to creating a safer cycling environment, this new bill, dubbed "Give Me 3" could help encourage more people to ride their bikes by reducing the amount of collisions that occur on the road, said Brown.

The number of Angelenos riding bicycles, as well as taking public transit has been increasing in recent years, said Aaron Paley, a founder and executive producer of CicLAvia.

"There is a definite sea change occurring of how people perceive the issue of 'how do i get from point A to point B,'" said Paley. "I see a major change in Los Angeles in the last decade."

He attributes the growing appeal of alternative transportation to multiple factors, including new legislation such as the bike passing bill.

If the new bill passes, people who break the law will face a minimum fine of $35 for a violation which does not result in an injury, and at least a $220 fine for a collision that injures a biker. The bike coalition adds that these costs skyrocket when you take into account court and administrative fees.

At least 19 other states and the District of Columbia already have established "minimum passing laws" like the one proposed for California.

"California is actually behind the rest of the nation -- or a big chunk of the nation -- when it comes to providing this kind of safety to bicyclists," said Brown.

He adds that the law serves an educational benefit for drivers, as much as a possible punitive one.

"I don't think anybody expects law enforcement to be out there with a yardstick measuring exactly how closely a driver comes to a bicyclist," said Brown.

But, he added, having this law on the books will create a presumption for future accidents; if a driver collides with a cyclist, it will raise the questions of how much space the two had between them.

This year's bill isn't the first time the "Give Me 3" campaign made a run at becoming a law.

Last year, a similar bill was presented to state lawmakers that included a provision allowing drivers to pass closer than three feet, if they slowed down to 15 miles per hour. But Brown said the California Highway Patrol were concerned this mandated speed could cause traffic tie-ups and drivers slamming on their brakes, and ultimately, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the bill last year.

But the governor asked supporters to "send him a bill he could sign," said Brown, which is what the revised legislation aims to be.

"We're confident this is what the governor was asking for," said Brown.

SB 1464 is expected to have no measurable fiscal impact. It has cleared the Senate and recently passed the Assembly Appropriations Committee, which is its last stop before a full Assembly vote within the next few weeks. Brown said that the bill could be sent to the governor at the end of this month or the beginning of September.

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