Three Feet for Safety Act: Frequently Asked Questions

Why do we need a law about passing bicyclists?

Many traffic laws reflect the fact that some road users — pedestrians, school children, emergency workers and road crews, for example — are especially vulnerable to passing motor vehicles. That’s why drivers have special speed limits and special passing rules when approaching crosswalks, schools, emergency vehicles and road crews. Specifying three feet as the minimum passing distance extends similar protection to people on bikes.

How will this law be enforced?

It will be enforced the same way California’s current law is enforced: a driver who is observed to be violating the law can be cited. Many people will obey the law, and some won’t – and some won’t get caught. That’s a problem with enforcement, not with the law itself.

The law is invaluable when a bicyclist is injured in a collision. It establishes a clear basis for citing motorists for unsafe passing.

What will be the penalties for violating this law?

The “Three Feet for Safety Act” mandates two penalties. For violations not resulting in an injury, the base fine is $35, which becomes a $233 fine once court and administrative fees are added. For violations resulting in a collision injuring a bicyclist, the base fine is $220, which becomes $959 with fees.

How do motorists tell if they’re giving at least three feet?
By doing what they already know how to do. Motorists park their cars with enough space so they can open the passenger-side door — which is about three feet wide — without hitting anything else. That’s at least the clearance they should give a bicyclist when passing in the same lane. To make it easier, just change lanes.

How do motorists give three feet on narrow roads?

State law has never guaranteed motorists a right to pass whenever or wherever they want. Motorists may only pass when it’s safe to do so. This doesn’t change with the Three Feet for Safety Act.

The new law requires motorists to slow down and wait to pass only when it is safe to do so. Motorists have to be prepared to demonstrate that three feet were NOT available and the slower, closer pass was done according to the law. This is a higher burden of proof for drivers than we have under the current law, which places no conditions on how to pass at a “safe distance.”

Does the law apply if a bicyclist is in a bike lane?

The intent of the law needs to be decided on this one, but give three feet anyway. Sometimes being along the far left edge of a bike lane is the only rational place to ride, so please give three feet of clearance to help us feel safe.

Does the law apply to bicyclists passing cars?

Absolutely not. The bill applies specifically to motorists passing people on bikes from behind. A bicyclist who passes a motor vehicle by less than three feet –- for example, when pulling alongside a car stopped at a red light — would not be in violation of this law.

Can I cross the double-yellow line to pass a bike?

Technically, no. However, police have the authority to exercise discretion when enforcing the law and have consistently said they are unlikely to ticket a motorist who straddles the double yellow line to provide three feet of clearance, provided they do so safely and carefully.

Updated 10.23.14

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