As of September 16, 2014, bicyclists will have a new safety zone of three feet. This means that drivers of motor vehicles that overtake and pass bicycles riding in the same direction, must remain at a distance of a minimum of three feet from the bicycle or bicyclist. Specifically, the law states that the distance is the length between “any part of the motor vehicle and any part of the bicycle or its operator.” If the motorist cannot adhere to this rule because of traffic or conditions on the road, then the motorist is required to reduce his or her rate of speed to one that is reasonable, and can pass only when there is no danger to the bicyclist’s safety.
The law is applicable to highway driving, but can also be applied to streets because, according to the California Vehicle Code, the definition of a highway includes streets and “a way or place of whatever nature, publicly maintained and open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel.” (Cal. Vehicle Code §360) The new law is called the Three Feet for Safety Act, and any driver who violates the law will be fined $35, and if a crash occurs, the driver will be fined $220. The new law is codified as Cal. Vehicle Code §§21750 and 21760.
I am in full agreement with the new law because it will discourage motorists from intentionally driving too close to bicyclists, and from engaging in behavior that constitutes harassment. Although it may be difficult to determine a length of three feet, the specificity of the distance is preferable to the statement, “driving at a safe distance.” What is considered “safe” to one person may not be “safe” to another. Furthermore, three feet may well be an insufficient distance for some bicyclists. Nevertheless, the law will offer some protection for bicyclists, and deter motorists from engaging in unsafe passing.
Hopefully, more states will enact a similar law that will help to enforce safe driving habits among motorists, and discourage them from sideswiping bicyclists. Currently, 32 states, including Washington, D.C., have such laws in place; 22 of those states specify a certain distance in order to pass safely. The majority of states require a three-foot safety zone while Pennsylvania mandates a distance of four feet.
As a result of the new law, there will likely be fewer collisions between motorists and bicyclists, and thus, motorists will be more inclined to share the road with bicyclists.