Bike safety: Three Feet For Safety Act takes effect

Law enforcement says the new law will be ‘a challenge’
By Ana Ceballos, Santa Cruz Sentinel

A bicyclist rides westbound on Highway 68 in the bike lane on Monday. A California law now requires drivers to give bicyclists 3 feet of clearance. (Vern Fisher – Monterey Herald)

SACRAMENTO >> Starting Tuesday, motorists could be fined up to $220 for not giving bicyclists enough room on the road.

The Three Feet For Safety Act signed into California law Monday requires motorists to keep a 3-foot distance from bicyclists when passing them from behind.

If traffic or roadway conditions prohibit motorists from doing so, they are required to pass at a “reasonable and prudent” speed and distance. The law, however, does not specify what a “reasonable and prudent” range would be.

“There are going to be some problems with (the law). An officer is also going to decide what’s prudent, and then have to prove in court that it was in fact prudent,” Salinas police Sgt. Gerard Ross said.

Motorists who violate the passing distance will be subjected to a $35 fine. If a collision occurs, the fine would jump to $220.

State laws will still require bicyclists to uphold their end of the bargain.

According to the California Vehicle Code, bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as motor vehicle drivers.

The law also says bike riders must travel as close to the right side of the lane in the direction of traffic.


Since 2008, the number of bicyclists killed in vehicle collisions in California rose by 13 percent, according to the most recent California Highway Patrol statewide report.

There have been 152 bicyclists reported killed in 2012, compared to the 131 reported in 2008.

Although bicycle-related collisions are a problem in a few county cities, between 2008 and 2012, there were only five fatal collisions reported in the county — two of those were reported in Salinas — according to data from the Safe Transportation Research and Education Center.

From the county collisions reported, 10 percent have resulted in either death or a severe injury. The rest resulted in a visible injury or minor pain.

According to Ariana Greene, the transportation planner for the Transportation Agency for Monterey County, the new law is trying to address side swipes and rear-end collisions, which make up less than 10 percent of collisions in the county.

Ross said a lot of times, the collisions are the bicyclists’ fault — whether it was a wrong turn or not keeping to the right side of the road.


Mari Lynch, a long-time supporter of the bicycle community in Monterey County, says it’s “absolutely wonderful” the new law is taking effect. However, she says the responsibility should not be put on drivers only.

“Bike safety is not about just one thing, it’s about infrastructure, law enforcement, and the behavior of drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians,” Lynch said.

In Salinas, where 6.3 percent of traffic accidents involve a bicyclist, Ross said the law will be a challenge to regulate.

One of the problems will be leaving it up to officers to judge what a 3-foot distance is. Despite having already been trained to enforce the new law, Ross says officers will have to take into consideration a lot of things like the weather, infrastructure and the road’s width.

“The most significant risk for bicyclists are distracted drivers. Ones not paying attention at all, that veer off and hit something or someone. The new law will not help in those cases,” said Joel Trice, president of Monterey Off Road Cycling Association.

The bigger picture is everyone needs to share the road and be aware of other users, Trice said.

Ana Ceballos can be reached at 726-4377.

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