Three Feet Can Make a World of Difference—and Now It's the Law
Three feet may not sound like a lot, but for bicyclists it can mean the difference between life and death…literally.
While motorists and bicyclists in California "enjoy" the very same rights—and responsibilities—to the road, many things can, and do, occur that offset what is supposed to be a fine balance between a humanly-propelled two-wheeler and a two-ton motorized vehicle.
Because this is not a perfect world, and that balance is not always accomplished, safety-conscious bicyclists have long advocated for a three-foot law, which would legally provide 36 inches of buffer between them and the motor vehicles sharing the road.
That wish came true on Tuesday, September 16, when a new law took effect that legally defines the safe distance for motorists when passing bicyclists as three feet.
In cases when traffic is too heavy to change lanes to create that buffer zone, drivers must slow to a "reasonable and prudent" speed, and pass only when it is safe to do so. The same goes for narrow roads. The law has always been to pass when it's safe; this new law doesn't change that.
There are a couple ways for motorists to "guesstimate" what three feet is. Some say that if a bicyclist can reach out his or her hand and touch your car, you're too close. Others suggest that the clearance necessary is the same as you would need to open your car door without hitting something next to it.
It's not an exact science, but erring on the side of caution is the best rule of thumb.
Since this new law is still in its infancy, only time will tell how strictly it is adhered to and how effective enforcement will be.
Motorists found violating the law will face a $35 fine; $220 if a collision occurs.
Some bicyclists say the law has no teeth because a law enforcement officer must witness a violation to issue a fine, and eye-witness accounts (even a GOPro video) are not admissible.
Regardless of the enforcement loopholes, we at Gordon, Edelstein, Krepack, Grant, Felton & Goldstein, LLP see this new law as a very big step in the right direction. Thousands of bicyclists are injured or killed every year throughout the state. If this new law can help to keep safety first and foremost in everyone's minds, it will be a win-win for motorists and bicyclists.