Brown’s confusing reason for vetoing SB 910 doesn’t make the problem go away

This afternoon Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed Senate Bill 910, our bill to establish three feet as the minimum passing distance when drivers pass bicyclists from behind under most circumstances.

We share the disappointment of the thousands of Californians who contacted their legislators and the Governor on behalf of this bill and of author Sen. Alan Lowenthal and our cosponsor Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who worked hard along with us to get this bill enacted.

Here is the Governor's veto message:

The intent of this bill is to improve bicyclist safety, a goal I wholeheartedly support.

This bill changes the longstanding law for how motor vehicles should pass a bicycle traveling in the same direction. Current law requires drivers to pass at a safe distance; this bill would specify that the distance must be at least 3 feet or at a speed not exceeding 15mph.

This bill offers some needed and clear improvement to the law such as specifying a minimum buffer of 3 feet. However, Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol have raised legitimate concerns about other provisions such as the 15mph requirement. On streets with speed limits of 35 or 40mph, slowing to 15mph to pass a bicycle could cause rear end collisions. On other roars, a bicycle may travel at or new 15 mph creating a long line of cars behind the cyclist.

I encourage the author, proponents, and opponents to send me a bill next year that solves these problems….

Frankly, we're baffled by this statement. How can the Governor support a three-foot buffer and simultaneously oppose a requirement that motorists slow down until they can provide a three-foot buffer?! We offered him positive examples of other states that have enacted these laws without any of the problems imagined by Caltrans and the CHP. We also shared research findings that show how improved safety enables more people to choose bicycling for transportation in a way that actually reduces all types of vehicle collisions and makes the roads safer for everyone.

The Governor's veto doesn't make the hazards associated with unsafe passing go away. Drivers will continue guessing how much clearance to give bicyclists when passing and those who get it wrong will continue injuring and killing bicyclists. Until the Governor appreciates the need to make real changes to existing law, more bicyclists will continue to die from drivers hitting them from behind than from any other cause.

The Governor's reason for vetoing SB 910 demonstrates the pervasive misunderstanding among so many public officials about how bicyclists use the road and the actual specifics of existing law, including why it's inadequate for protecting bicyclists from preventable hazards.

Today's news is one more reminder of how tough it can be to change car-centric attitudes in California. But the state's goals for improved air quality and public health simply can't be met without making it safer for more Californians to get to school, work and essential services without having to drive a car. California needs bicycling. We're confident the Governor will eventually come to recognize this.

Fortunately, SB 910 awakened a sleeping giant, the thousands of Californians who care about the safety of those who travel by bicycle. We've heard from adults and teens, parents and spouses, teachers, healthcare providers, law enforcement officers and corporate leaders who want safer roads. Gov. Brown can count on these constituents to continue asking him to safeguard all Californians on the road, and not simply the interests of drivers and their defenders at Caltrans and the CHP.

This issue isn't going away and neither are we.