New California driving law mandates 3 feet for cyclist safety

September 19, 2014 | 11:14 am


It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3 — and it can decrease accidents, injuries and potentially save lives.

A new California law took effect this week that requires drivers to give bicyclists at least 3 feet space as they pass them on the roads. It’s called the “Three Feet for Safety Act,” which was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in September 2013 and went into effect on Tuesday.

Violators of the new will be fined $35 if they drive too close to a bicyclist. A $220 fine will be imposed if a cyclist is injured when a driver is violating the 3-foot buffer.

More than 150 cyclists in California were killed in collisions with cars in 2012, according to the Los Angeles Times. And in Los Angeles County, nearly 5,000 cyclists were killed or injured in traffic accidents that same year.

Previous California laws did not specify a safe distance from bicyclists. Now, California is the 24th state to enact a 3-foot passing law. Pennsylvania requires at least 4 feet between cars and bikes. Go here to see a map of all participating states.

Public safety officials — including the California Highway Patrol — advise drivers to slow down near bicyclists, pay attention, check their blind spots and have patience for others. And drivers are reminded that bicyclists can have the right to take control of a full lane of traffic if there are unsafe conditions in bike lanes, or if conditions are unsafe for drivers to pass them.

Bicyclists, too, are reminded about proper safety measures. The California Department of Motor Vehicles, for example, provides several safety tips. They include:

  • Maintain control of your bicycle.
  • Protect yourself–reduce the risk of head injury by always wearing a helmet.
  • Be visible, alert, and communicate your intentions.
  • Ride with traffic.

A rule of thumb for distinguishing if you’re too close to a cyclist while driving: if the bicyclist can reach out his or her arm and touch your vehicle, you’re most likely closer than 3 feet.

Here are some more details on how the law works:

  • The law applies to any place a vehicle passes a bicyclist, regardless of whether there’s a bike lane.
  • A law enforcement officer must witness a violation to issue a fine.
  • One exception: If there is not enough room for a driver to give 3 feet of space, the driver must first slow down before safely passing.

Other rules drivers and cyclists should know, include:

  • Bicyclist can wear earphones or headphones, but must have one ear open to traffic at all times.
  • Riding while talking on a cell phone is permitted.

For more information on bike safety, check out these websites for more resources:

And remember, if you’re ever injured in an accident while riding your bicycle, call the Bakersfield accident and injury law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles at 661-323-4000 or visit the website Chainlaw.com.