By Vince Echavaria
Cyclists who have seen vehicles come too close for comfort as they drive by could soon have an added protection for keeping cars at a safe distance on the roads.
Assembly Bill (AB) 1371, also known as the Three Feet for Safety Act, which establishes a buffer zone of at least three feet that motorists are required to maintain between their vehicle and bicycles they wish to pass on California roads, has been approved by the state Senate and Assembly. The bill has moved on to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown, who has until mid-October to sign or veto it.
While the law currently requires motorists to pass bicycle riders at a safe distance, it does not specifically define what distance is considered safe. Under the new law, three feet is identified as the minimum safe distance between cars and bikes on state roads where the vehicle code applies. Three-foot restrictions have been enacted in 21 other states, while Pennsylvania requires a minimum of four feet.
Assemblyman Steven Bradford (D-Westchester), who authored the legislation, said the primary impetus for establishing a buffer zone is safety for bicyclists and motorists alike.
“If we are serious about reducing greenhouse gases and traffic congestion, and making our communities more livable, we need to make the streets safe for people on bikes,” Bradford said.
The assemblyman, who has been a bike rider for 25 years, said he has seen a number of close-calls when cars pass bikes and action is needed to make the streets less dangerous.
“Too many people just don’t realize that cyclists are legally allowed in the street,” he said. “This bill gives everyone clarity as to what is safe behavior.”
Some local avid cyclists recalled their own unnerving experiences as vehicles have sped by, saying keeping them at a certain distance will boost their sense of safety.
“Too many motorists drive dangerously close to cyclists. The most frightening experiences I have had while riding my bike were when drivers buzzed me, passing within inches,” said Westchester resident Kent Strumpell, the Council District 11 representative of the city of Los Angeles Bicycle Advisory Committee.
“The three-foot bill is very much needed to raise motorist awareness and provide an enforcement tool so that cyclists are given more respect on the road.”
Jay Slater, president of the board of directors for Velo Club La Grange, said, “I have been buzzed by cars, trucks, etc. more times than I can count. It is one of the most frightening events that happen to us on the road and a law like this would be a big help.
“Many fatalities occur when cyclists are struck from behind by drivers who they cannot see coming.”
In situations where cars and bikes are too close to each other, there is no room to safely deal with instances such as hitting a pothole, driving over a bump or rock, or someone swerving after sneezing, noted Eric Bruins, planning and policy director for the county Bicycle Coalition.
“It’s basically like loading a chamber before playing Russian roulette,” he said. “This is a clear problem and a very clear fix.”
For those who have been through a close-call, some may not feel comfortable getting back on their bike, but the three-foot buffer can help make the streets feel less intimidating, Bruins said.
Bruins called AB 1371 a “really important step” and said it was a longtime coming, adding that former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had advocated for a similar distance requirement.
Regarding concerns about allowing enough space for bikes on congested thoroughfares, Bruins said the law clearly states that cyclists have the right to use the traffic lanes while traveling in the same direction of traffic. The bill clarifies the existing law by identifying the specific distance cars need to provide when passing, he said.
“This provides a little bit of confidence that the drivers are going to play by the rules too,” Bruins said.
While Slater says the buffer law will help improve safety for cyclists, he believes it will only be effective if it is properly enforced by police and motorists are aware that cyclists are legally allowed to be on the road.
“The real key is awareness that cyclists are on the road and have a legal right to be there,” Slater said.
Bradford is hopeful that legislators have addressed prior concerns about the liability of the state with the three-feet law and he is confident that the bill will receive the governor’s signature, a spokesman for Bradford said.
Bruins said the coalition is working on other safety measures for bike riders including a bill that would extend the statute of limitations for prosecuting people involved in hit and run collisions.
Bill requiring 3-feet passing distance between cars, bikes moves on to governor
By Vince Echavaria