Three-foot bicycle rule goes into effect in California

California recently enacted a new three-foot buffer law to reduce the risk of bicycle accidents.

Bicycling in Los Angeles is a popular pastime, due to the year-round pleasant weather and abundance of bicycle trails. Unfortunately, where there are many bicycles, there are often many bicycle accidents, the threat of which can make this pastime a dangerous one. In the Los Angeles area alone, almost 5,000 cyclists were injured during 2012. In the same year, the California Highway Patrol reported that 153 cyclists lost their lives.

Responding to the fact that the majority of bicyclist injuries and fatalities occur because of collisions with motor vehicles, the California Legislature recently enacted a law requiring motorists to give cyclists more space. With the passage of the law, California became the 24th state mandating a buffer space for cyclists.

The new law, which became effective on September 16, requires motorists to give bicyclists at least three feet of space when passing them, as long as the road is wide enough to do so safely. If the road is too narrow or traffic is too heavy to give the requisite three feet, the law requires motorists to slow down and pass the bicycle only when they can do so without endangering the safety of the cyclist.

Under the law, drivers that fail to give cyclists the required three feet of space can be fined $35. If a collision occurs because of the failure, motorists can be fined $220. This may seem like a rather small fine, but once court costs are added, it can end up costing motorists a significant amount of money.

If injured, seek legal advice

Common sense will tell you that when a heavier car or other motor vehicle meets a lighter bicycle, the motor vehicle will win in the majority of cases. Although the law provides a financial incentive to motorists to drive safely around bicycles, many simply do not pay attention to cyclists on the road for various reasons. As a result, bicycle accidents will hardly be a thing of the past.

When bicycle accidents occur, the lucky cyclists walk away with cuts and bruises. The less lucky ones, however, can suffer catastrophic injuries such as brain injuries and broken bones. These injuries can be life changing, as they can impair motor functions and require a lifetime of costly medical treatment and rehabilitation.

If the driver of the motor vehicle is found to have acted negligently (e.g. driving recklessly or while distracted or intoxicated), injured cyclists can recover the financial losses (e.g. medical bills, loss of wages, and pain and suffering) they suffered because of the accident. Since it is not immediately apparent in many cases whether negligence played a role in the accident, it is important to speak to an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible. An attorney can work with accident investigators to determine the cause of the accident and work to recover the compensation that you are entitled to by law.