Bicycle Safety Law Approved in California Assembly

-Posted On September 7, 2012 In Bikes and California Law-

I am pleased to report that on Monday, August 27th the California Assembly approved the new three-foot passing bill by a 54-24 vote after a heated and lengthy debate. The preceding try to pass this law was Senate Bill 910 which I discussed back in September 2011, and which was vetoed by Governor Brown. Hopefully, the reasons for his veto have been addressed in the new bill.

After this new pro-bicycle bill, otherwise known as Senate Bill 1464, becomes reconciled with matching State Senate bill, it will land back on the Governor’s desk for signature or veto. The California bicycle community is hopeful this bill will become California law. As a California Bicycle Accident Attorney, I try to stay involved in bike advocacy, largely through membership in organizations, including the Marin County Bicycle Coalition, San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, and Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition.

We try to improve bicycle safety by spreading the word to as many cyclists as possible so that we can, as a community, help reduce the number of bicycle injuries. Bicyclists are at constant risk riding alongside motorists, particularly when being passed. This three-foot passing bill should help to reduce bicycle accidents since the current law allows motorists to pass bicyclists and within a so-called “safe distance” in proximity to the bicycle.

This closeness can often become hazardous or even deadly to bicycle riders, particularly if a cyclist is forced to veer from his or her path to avoid an obstacle in the road such as a pothole or streetcar tracks. This new bill (as law) would legally require automobile drivers to remain at least 3 feet from the moving bicyclists when passing from behind.

If this bill becomes a law, California will join 21 other states which have enacted similar laws to promote bicycle safety.

As stated by the California Bicycle Coalition:

“A specified minimum passing distance provides drivers with a more objective and easily understood measure of what constitutes “safe” and gives law enforcement and the courts a clearer basis for establishing a driver’s liability for unsafe passing. Most importantly, it helps emphasize a driver’s special responsibility to safeguard more vulnerable road users like bicyclists.”

Stay tuned until September 30–Governor Brown’s time limit for signing the bill into law.

Update on October 1, 2012:

Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed SB 1464. The Governor argued that the provision of the bill that would legalize the common practice of crossing a solid double-yellow centerline in order to pass a bicyclist with at least 3 feet of clearance might expose the state to liability if a driver is injured while doing so.

While this provision was also contained in SB 910, last year’s 3-foot passing bill, concerns about liability were not raised by anyone during the last legislative session, nor were they expressed during legislative hearings and floor debate about SB 1464, even by the Department of Finance, which tracks the fiscal impact of legislation. In fact, it appears that state law already gives the state immunity from the kind of liability he cites.

I share the California Bicycle Coalition’s concern over the Governor’s action, not least because of the assurances he expressed in his veto of SB 910 and the support for a 3-foot passing requirement he personally expressed to Sen. Lowenthal after last year’s veto.

Brown has offered no indication of how he views bicycling or expressed any ideas for ensuring the safety of Californians who rely on bicycling as everyday transportation. By vetoing SB 1464, he makes clear that he prioritizes legalistic speculation over the safety of Californians.

About the author: Claude Wyle is an aggressive advocate for Bay Area bicyclists. Claude has decades of experience representing those harmed by the wrongful conduct of others, and, as a Marin County bicyclist and San Francisco bicycle accident attorney, has fought to protect the rights of injured cyclists throughout his legal career. Claude is also an avid cyclist himself and a member of the Marin County Bicycle Coalition, San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, and Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition and is a sponsor of Safe Routes to School.

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