New Law Requires California Drivers Give 3-Foot Buffer When Passing Bicyclists

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A new state law that went into effect on Sept. 16, 2014, required motorists give bicyclists a 3-foot buffer on roadways. (Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

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California drivers must stay at least 3 feet away from bicyclists when passing them under a new state law that went into effect Tuesday.

The Three Feet for Safety Act, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in September 2013 after years of lobbying on the part of cycling activists, requires a 3-foot buffer between cars while passing cyclists.

If roadway conditions or traffic prevent drivers from maintaining the required distance betweens their vehicles and cyclists, motorists may only pass bikes after they've slowed to a "speed that is reasonable and prudent" and "when doing so would not endanger the safety of the operator of the bicycle," according to the law.

The previous law required drivers stay a "safe" but unspecified distance from bicyclists.

Violators 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.

In announcing the new law Tuesday, public safety agencies advised motorists to slow down near bicyclists, pay attention, check their blind spots and have patience.

The California Highway Patrol's Southern Division reminded drivers that cyclists have a right to take control over the full lane of traffic if conditions are unsafe for drivers to pass.

"Be aware that when a lane is too narrow for vehicles and bikes to be safely side by side, bicyclist should ride in or near the center of that lane to discourage motorists from unsafe passing," the division wrote in a news release.

Bicyclists were asked to ride with the flow of traffic, not against it; be visible, and stop at red lights and stop signs.

The law was authored by Assemblyman Steven Bradford, a Democrat from Gardena who describes himself as a lifelong cyclist; the city of Los Angeles was a sponsor.

Brown had vetoed earlier versions of the law in 2011 and 2012.

Nearly 25 states have a similar law, the Los Angeles Times reported.

KTLA's Melissa Pamer contributed to this article.

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