Give Me Three: California Passes Law Compelling Drivers to Give Cyclists Three Feet of Clearance When Passing

three-feetAs if protecting a fellow human's life weren't enough of a reason to pass cyclists safely, drivers now have a $35 incentive to make sure they're giving cyclists at least three feet of clearance when passing. The "Three Feet for Safety Act" will go into effect state-wide starting September 16, setting a higher standard for the recognition of cyclists as vehicles with two wheels.

According to Zev Yaroslavsky, Los Angeles County Supervisor of the 3rd District, this is the first time a state standard has been set with the safety of bicyclists in mind. The new measure requires motorists to pass bicycles by at least three feet, or, if that's not possible, to slow down until there is an opportunity to pass safely. Motorists that fail to abide will face a $35 fine, which can reach up to $220 if a driver passing unsafely makes contact and injures the bicyclist.

Long Beach drivers should be aware that they will be pulled over by the Long Beach Police Department if they are seen giving a cyclist less than the three feet of required clearance.

“LBPD takes bicyclist and motorist safety seriously and enforces all California Vehicle Codes regarding safe operation, especially when sharing the roadway,” said Field Support Commander Michael Beckman. “Officers will strive to educate motorists and bicyclists alike to seek voluntary compliance with the new law and after the implementation date, violators may be cited.”

Long Beach cyclists should take note that the new law is not a reason to take advantage of the inherent vulnerability of bicycles on the road, but an incentive to continue abiding by the same rules that motorists and cyclists alike have to follow. When either a motorist or a cyclist is seen violating such laws unsafely, contention starts to show in the form of disrespect and often unsafe maneuvering by both parties.

Yaroslavsky cited a harrowing report from The League of American Bicyclists that analyzed a year of crashes involving cyclist fatalities, which found that a staggering 40 percent of the 628 victims had been hit from behind. While a driver, sitting in the safety of his or her vehicle, may not think much of giving a cyclist less than three feet of room while passing, motorists should bear in mind that no matter how safe the situation appears, and no matter how sure the motorist is that they're not going to hit the cyclist while passing, the cyclist can often feel powerless and extremely threatened when being "buzzed," or passed too closely. This can have an effect not only on the cyclist, but on the general bike-friendliness of the city. Safer roads mean more commuters opting to go by bike rather than car.

Cyclists in Long Beach and throughout California now have a little less to worry about when the sound of an engine coming up from behind sets their heart aflutter; while $35 or even the $220 may seem like meager penalties for the value of not potentially taking someone's life, at least cyclists now know they have the support of state legislation behind them.



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