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Sacramento enacts new law to protect bicyclists
Art deWerk

The state Legislature has been busy passing new laws this year. Hundreds of these new laws have no direct or practical effect on the average person's day-to-day life, but the new "Three Feet for Safety Act" has been signed by the governor making it a new law that will potentially affect all motorists in next year - Sept. 14, 2014, to be exact. The Three Feet for Safety Act is intended to create a cushion between bicyclists and motor vehicles to help ensure the safety of bicyclists.

The law's language states, in effect, when a motorist is overtaking a bicyclist riding in the same direction, that they shall allow a minimum space of three feet between the motor vehicle and the bicyclist. When roadway conditions do not allow for a three-foot separation, the motorist is obligated to slow to a speed that is "reasonable and prudent" and that such passing can only occur when it does not endanger the bicycle operator or the bicycle itself. Curiously, this new law provides for no new requirements for the bicycle operator. It would seem appropriate that the bicycle operator would be required to ride as close to the right-hand side of the roadway as possible, to the extent that the roadway surface is safe for bicycling operation. Perhaps the Legislature will see its way clear to amend the new law to reflect a greater level of practicality. Bicyclists should be part of the safety equation.

The shortcoming(s) of the new law notwithstanding, I am urging motorists to practice the three-foot rule immediately regardless of when it officially goes into effect. Bicyclists are almost always on the losing end when it comes to collisions with motor vehicles. The same applies to situations when there is no actual contact between the bicyclist and motorist, but when the latter causes a bicyclist to run off the road in evasive action.

Once this law takes effect, motorists violating it will be subject to citation for an infraction offense. A collision need not take place for a citation to be issued; the officer need only be able to testify the observation that the space between the alleged violator and bicyclist was less than three feet. In the event that a collision takes place that leads to bodily injuries, the violator is subject to a $220 fine. When there is no bodily injury, the fine is $35. You can be sure that the actual costs associated with one of these citations will be much higher than the $35 and $220 amounts once such things as court fees, etc., are added into the equation. For those who can remember when cell phone violations we touted as being only $20 when that law first went into effect, the fines and fees are now close to $200. This Three Feet for Safety Act law will certainly follow the same cost trajectory as did cell phone violations.

The costs of the citations aside, there is the moral imperative of exercising great caution when driving near bicyclists. They generally cannot see to the rear and the space they ride in is generally narrow - especially on country roads. Let us not wait until September 2014 to give bicyclists a safer environment in which to ride.