Third time’s the charm for California’s Three Feet for Safety Act?

As Californians increasingly bike to work or hop on a bicycle for exercise, drivers and bicyclists must learn to share the road safely. Part of safe driving includes making sure the bicyclist has enough room to ride and is not in danger of being clipped by a passing car or running into trouble along curbs, gutters or parked vehicles. After being vetoed twice in previous years, legislation has been proposed again in the State Assembly to require drivers to give bicyclists three feet of passing room, with the aim to reduce the number of dangerous bicycle accidents.

California's Three Feet for Safety Act

Assembly Member Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) introduced AB 1371 in 2013, and it would require drivers to give bicyclists three feet of clearance when passing on California roads. The bill seeks not only to increase safety for bicyclists, but also to make communities more livable and environmentally friendly, reports the Los Angeles Sentinel.

Recognizing that bicyclists have the same rights as drivers on the road, Assemblyman Bradford said that bicyclists need and "deserve legal protection to ensure their safety." The legislation has the support of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who suffered a broken elbow in a crash with a vehicle while bicycling in 2010.

The bill may encounter resistance from California Governor Jerry Brown, however, who vetoed similar safe-passing legislation in 2011 and 2012. Senator Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) introduced safe-passing legislation that was passed by both the Assembly and the Senate in the two previous years, but Gov. Brown vetoed both bills, joining Texas Governor Rick Perry as the only governors in the U.S. to veto safe-passing laws, according to LA Streets Blog.

One of Gov. Brown's objections was that the legislation in its previous form may have left the state with too much exposure in the event of a crash and lawsuit. LA Streets Blog reports that the 2012 legislation permitted drivers to cross a double yellow line in the center of a road to pass bicyclists, and Gov. Brown said that would increase the risk of a head-on collision and the state being sued as a result for allowing vehicles to cross the double yellow line.

The 2013 version of the legislation contains similar language allowing drivers to cross a double yellow line, but with the provision that they may do so only when it is safe. The legislation was also revised to make the driver responsible for safety when passing, reducing the risk borne by the state in the event of an accident.

Time will tell whether California's Three Feet for Safety Act will be enacted this year. Regardless of the outcome, however, anyone who is injured by a vehicle while bicycling should contact a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer to discuss their legal options.