This is the basic information about the Three Feet For Safety Act, via California Bicycle Coalition.
How can drivers tell whether they’re giving a bicyclist three feet of clearance?
By doing what they already know how to do. Most drivers who can park in a parking stall (like at a shopping center) can park their cars with enough space so they can open the passenger-side door — which is at least three feet wide — without hitting an adjacent car or wall. That’s how much clearance they should give a bicyclist when passing in the same lane. Easy, huh?
AB 1371 will make safe passing a lot less confusing. Existing law simply requires a driver to keep a “safe distance” from a bicyclist. How is a driver supposed to know what’s considered “safe”?
How will this law be enforced?
It will be enforced the same way California’s current passing law is enforced: a driver who is observed to be violating the law can be cited. Many drivers will obey the law and some won’t – and won’t get caught. That’s a problem with enforcement, not with the law itself. (And yes, it also means drivers will need to be educated about the law.)
The law will be particularly valuable where a violation results in a collision that injures a bicyclist, because it establishes a clear basis for citing the driver for unsafe passing.
Believe it or not, under existing law it’s not illegal to injure a bicyclist with a car. In far too many cases drivers who injure bicyclists never gets cited or punished in any way. Drivers who kill bicyclists can be prosecuted for vehicular manslaughter, a criminal charge. But there isn’t a comparable charge for injuring a bicyclist, even when the injuries are severe or permanently disabling.
AB 1371 will result in more careless drivers being punished and some of the worst offenders being taken off the road permanently. This protects everyone else on the road, including other drivers.
What will be the penalties for violating this law?
AB 1371 contains two penalties. For a violation that does not result in an injury, the bill sets a base fine of $35, which becomes a $233 fine for the driver once court and administrative fees are added. This is the existing fine for unsafe passing.
For a violation that involves a collision that injures a bicyclist, the base fine is $220, which becomes a $959 fine for the driver. This new penalty is equal to the lowest fine imposed for reckless driving with bodily injury.
Will the law apply when passing a bicyclist who is riding in a bike lane?
No. AB 1371 amends the California Vehicle Code section that deals with one vehicle passing another vehicle from behind in the same travel lane and traveling in the same direction (the technical term is “overtaking”). When a car and a bicycle are traveling in separate lanes, the safe passing law would not apply.
How would drivers give bicyclists three feet of clearance on roads that are too narrow?
Keep in mind that state law doesn’t guarantee drivers a right to pass whenever or wherever they want. Drivers may only pass another vehicle or a bicycle when it’s safe to do so. This wouldn’t change under AB 1371.
AB 1371 would require the driver to slow down to a safe and reasonable speed and wait to pass only when it was safe to do so. The driver would have to be prepared to demonstrate that three feet were NOT available and the slower, closer pass was done according to the law. This is a higher burden of proof for drivers than we have under the current law, which places no conditions on how to pass at a “safe distance.”
Why do we need a law just about passing bicyclists?
We already have a law about passing bicyclists.
Existing state law requires drivers to pass at a “safe distance.” The problem is, there’s no way for drivers to know what’s “safe” when state law doesn’t specify a distance. That’s why we have Assembly Bill 1371.
Plenty of traffic laws reflect the fact that many road users — pedestrians, school children, emergency workers and road crews, for example — are especially vulnerable in the event of a collision with a passing motor vehicle. That’s why drivers have special speed limits and special passing rules when approaching crosswalks, schools, school busses, emergency vehicles and road crews.
By specifying three feet as the minimum passing distance when cars pass bicycles, AB 1371 simply extends this concept to passing bicyclists, who are just as vulnerable to motor vehicles.
Would AB 1371 prohibit a bicyclist from passing a car too closely?
No. The bill applies specifically to motor vehicles passing bicyclists from behind. A bicyclist who passes a motor vehicle by less than three feet –- for example, when pulling alongside a car stopped at a red light — would not violate this law (and wouldn’t cause the driver to be in violation of the law, as the bicyclist is passing the driver and not the other way around).
The reason should be obvious: a passing bicyclist represents none of the risk to drivers that passing drivers present to bicyclists. In fact, we’re not aware of any evidence that a bicyclist passing a car has ever harmed the driver.
AB 1371 simply reflects the unique potential of motor vehicles to cause significant harm to other road users.