3-foot passing bill OK’d by Senate committee


On Tuesday, May 3, the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee approved Senate Bill 910 on a 6-3 vote.

Senator Alan Lowenthal, SB 910’s author, passionately defended the bill against the same criticisms that defeated our previous safe passing bill five years ago. Representatives from the City of Los Angeles, our co-sponsor, the Sierra Club and the Humboldt Bay Bicycle Commuters also spoke in favor of the bill.

During the discussion, two senators told of their own experiences of being run off the road by motorists passing too closely. Bakersfield Senator Michael Rubio said, “It’s been my experience that dangerous passing is often a deliberate act of intimidation and not just an ‘accident.’ I see this bill as a way to help stop that.”

Speaking against the bill were representatives from the Automobile Associations of California and the California Association of Bicycle Organizations, although both said they might be able to support the bill if it’s amended. AAA doesn’t like the provision exempting motorists from the 3-foot requirement if they pass at roughly the same speed (within 15 mph) as the cyclist. CABO has stated that bicyclists are already covered under the existing rule requiring safe passing of all vehicles.

Prior to the hearing we contacted the cycling clubs and advocacy groups located in the districts of committee members, and in just a few days, more than 50 letters of support poured in from clubs, local bicycle advocacy organizations and individual cyclists. Few bills generate this much public support.

At the hearing the committee approved two amendments to the bill, and debated another:

– The $220 base fine (before court costs and fees are added) is limited to violations that result in a bicyclist being injured. Otherwise, the base fine was reduced to $35 (plus $198 in court costs and other fees), same as the fine for unsafe passing. We support this change as necessary to gain votes, but we still believe that passing a cyclist dangerously close is a more serious offense than passing another car unsafely and deserves a steeper fine.

– Motorists will be allowed to cross the double yellow centerline in order to give a bicyclist 3 feet of clearance. This provision ensures that narrower 2-lane roads won’t keep motorists from giving bicyclists adequate clearance.

The Senate committee and the bill’s author see the problems with the provision that gives motorists the option to pass closer than 3 feet so long as they’re traveling no more than 15 MPH faster than the bicyclist. We promised to work with the author to improve the language to better meet the goal of letting motorists pass more closely at very low speeds in tight urban settings.

The committee’s vote is a huge step toward protecting bicyclists from unsafe conditions and harassment.