September 8, 2014
The Three Feet for Safety Act, passed last year by the Legislature, is
the latest sign of an important cultural shift in a state famously
dominated by automobiles.
A California law requiring drivers to maintain a distance of three feet
when passing cyclists on the road goes into effect next week. The Three
Feet for Safety Act, passed last year by the Legislature, is the latest
sign of an important cultural shift in a state famously dominated by
building of a bike-friendly society is a long, slow process. Officials
in Los Angeles are in the midst of a 35-year project to build out 1,684
miles of bikeways. But as more people opt to get out of their cars and
onto their bicycles, it is increasingly important to figure out how
motorists and cyclists can share the road safely.
Hence the new
law. Initially, its specificity is bound to cause some confusion and
frustration among drivers and bicyclists alike. How exactly does a
driver know whether he's three feet away from a cyclist? What if moving
three feet to the left means going into the oncoming traffic lane? Will
some cyclists really carry yardsticks, as they have vowed to do, to make
sure the law's requirements are being met?
drivers will figure it out. Laws similar to this one are already on the
books in 22 states. The California Department of Motor Vehicles has
long instructed drivers to pass at a safe distance and has recommended
three feet. Now it's the rule. However, the new law also states that if a
driver is unable to give a cyclist three feet, due to traffic or road
conditions (including the weather and width of the highway), the driver
must instead slow to a reasonable speed and pass when doing so would not
endanger the bicyclist. A violation carries a base fine of $35, unless
the violation causes a collision and injury to the bicyclist. Then the
fine is $220.
law is a smart first step toward rational road-sharing, and it's
imperative that motorists — and, just as important, law enforcement
agencies — take it seriously. Los Angeles police and California Highway
Patrol officials have said that the emphasis in the first few months
will be to educate drivers on the law, not necessarily to write a lot of
tickets. That's fine. But eventually drivers will have to be held
accountable for careless or reckless passing. Likewise, cyclists also
need to be held accountable when they break the rules of the road.
every urban bicyclist has a story about a driver who whizzed by too
closely. If we want to coax more people out of their gas-guzzling cars,
they have to feel confident that riding a bike is not a death-defying