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By Janet Lafleur

About this blog: My love affair with the bicycle began with a crush on my first red tricycle that I pedaled in circles on the driveway. The crush grew into full-blown passion when my dad threw Stingray handlebars and a banana seat on my older sist...  (More)

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What Does 3 Feet for Safety Mean?

Uploaded: Oct 29, 2013
Last month Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 1371, a three foot passing bill that requires drivers to pass bikes with three feet or greater clearance. The bill has had some people wondering what it means for them. The good news is that for the overwhelming majority of drivers, this law doesn't require any changes in their driving behavior.

In my experience riding my bike around Silicon Valley on a daily basis, most drivers pass me safely, giving me more than 3 feet clearance. Safe drivers know that passing anything on the roadway closer than three feet, whether it's someone standing on the sidewalk, a parked car, or even a lamp post, is risky if their car is moving faster than a crawl. And if what they're passing is moving too, like another car or someone on a bike, safe drivers allow even more room. Both drivers and bicyclists often make small adjustments to maneuver around potholes, avoid people stepping out of cars, or react to other unexpected road conditions. A bigger buffer keeps everyone safer.

So what exactly are the provisions of the bill? The bill enacts the Three Feet for Safety Act, which prohibits the drivers from passing bicycles moving in the same direction "at a distance of less than 3 feet between any part of the motor vehicle and any part of the bicycle or its operator." That means three feet between the car's rear view mirror, not the body of the car, and the bicycle's handlebars or rider's elbow.

The act also requires drivers to pass "at a safe distance that does not interfere with the safe operation of the overtaken bicycle, having due regard for the size and speed of the motor vehicle and the bicycle, traffic conditions, weather, and the surface and width of the highway." In other words, large trucks traveling at high speeds that could create a dangerous draft would be required to give more clearance than small cars at lower speeds that don't create a wind draft.

If three feet clearance is not possible due to traffic or roadway conditions, the act allows the vehicle to pass closer if the driver slows to a speed that is "reasonable and prudent" and doesn't "endanger the safety of the operator of the bicycle" as described above.

As a driver, how do you know how far three feet is? It's about how much room you need between parked cars to exit yours without hitting the other car. In other words, roughly a car door's width.

Another thing the Three Feet for Safety Act does is clarify when a lane is too narrow for a car and a bike to travel safely in the same lane. This is important because bicyclists are not required to ride on the right-hand side of the road when a lane is too narrow, per CVC 20122. If the right lane is "too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane" then people may ride their bikes in the middle of the lane to ensure that drivers change lanes to pass instead of passing too closely in the same lane.

There are streets in Mountain View where there are parked cars on the right and the lane is not wide enough to allow three feet of "door zone" clearance between the parked car and the bicyclist, plus three feet between the bicyclist and a passing vehicle. That's why you'll sometimes see people riding in the middle of the lane, especially on the narrow streets downtown. It's perfectly legal for narrow lanes, and it discourages drivers from unsafely squeezing past.

But once again, the vast majority of drivers pass safely because they know the potential for injury. The Three Feet for Safety Act just spells it out for the dangerous few who don't.

Will the Three Feet for Safety Act change how you drive or ride a bike? Will it make you feel safer riding a bike? Will it change your behavior when you drive?
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Otto Maddox, a resident of Monta Loma,
on Oct 29, 2013 at 12:57 pm

Silly. First, how is a police officer going to be able to measure three feet accurately? Seems like this will be an easy ticket to fight.

Second, who is really going to pay attention this law?

Third, it is already illegal to pass a bike (or any vehicle for that matter) in an unsafe manner.

Here we go again just trying to make things "more illegal".

Posted by Janet Lafleur, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Oct 29, 2013 at 1:16 pm

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

You're right, there already are provisions in the vehicle code for safe passing, but the provisions didn't clarify what a safe distance is.

As for enforcement, based on what's happened in the 22 other states that have similar laws, the law is rarely enforced when there's not a collision, and mostly when the collision results in injury or death. In some cases, it was the only violation that prosecutors could pin on a driver that harms someone.

Posted by parent, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Oct 29, 2013 at 5:15 pm

Yes, the law already says you have to pass bicyclists by a safe distance, but most drivers do not know what a safe distance is. The main purpose of the new law is to tell drivers that 3 feet is a safe distance. Drill that into your head "THREE FEET" and you won't have any trouble with this law.

Posted by Fou du vélo, a resident of St. Francis Acres,
on Oct 30, 2013 at 5:42 am

Since many new cars already have collision/distance/lanes sensors, manufacturers will hopefully program that new 3 feet safety rule to alert drivers when passing a bike.

Posted by Stay under the brige, a resident of Blossom Valley,
on Oct 30, 2013 at 6:54 am

My favorite part about these blogs is when the Negative Nancys are put down by calm and rational fact conveyance. Then they stew for a while and come up with some other personal bias based statement, only to be shot down again by rational responses.

Posted by Joe, a resident of another community,
on Oct 30, 2013 at 9:58 am

This law is great in that it clarifies what is safe. The majority of drivers don't ride bikes, so they have no idea how dangerous it can be to pass with little clearance or at high speeds. This will save the lives of many adult and child cyclists.

Posted by KW, a resident of Shoreline West,
on Oct 30, 2013 at 3:37 pm

KW is a registered user.

Thanks for illuminating the new law. You also bring up associated safe practices that need to be broadcast more. As an urban cycling skills instructor, I am familiar with much of the data to support staying out from parked cars (door zone and visibility) and "taking the lane" but most people are not. And even after learning that it\'s a sound practice, it\'s still a hard concept for some to accept.

Some of these facts include: 1) most cyclists that are hit by cars are hit from the side not from behind 2) bike lanes can be dangerous if they\'re in the door zone 3) cyclists are not required to be in the bike lane if it\'s dangerous 4) in many cases, being in the middle of the lane REALLY is the safest place to be for a cyclist. Even if the cyclist is being honked at! I joke that a honk is your guarantee that the car driver sees you!

P.S. I teach "mind the door, give\'m four". 3 feet is may be fine for a car to pass but it\'s not enough to avoid some doors. Some instructors teach 5 feet.

Posted by mike, a resident of Monta Loma,
on Oct 31, 2013 at 9:43 am

This might help, as we are nearing the 3rd anniversary of Lauren Wards murder. She was riding her pink Trek under 280 on Alpine road and was struck from behind by a massive 18 wheeler. Maybe the name of the law should be the Lauren Ward bill.

Posted by Janet Lafleur, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Oct 31, 2013 at 10:16 am

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

@Mike Have you ridden the new green lane on Alpine under 280? I haven't yet, but heard it works well.

Posted by mike, a resident of Monta Loma,
on Oct 31, 2013 at 12:17 pm

Yep! It works. It even makes a noise when a car is on it. Progress!

Posted by Daily Reader, a resident of Slater,
on Nov 2, 2013 at 6:02 am

I find this blog to be most interesting and informative Blog (and comments) on The Voice.

Posted by Janet Lafleur, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Nov 2, 2013 at 9:19 am

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

@Daily Reader Thanks! I'm glad you're enjoying the blog.

Posted by SAM, a resident of North Whisman,
on Nov 2, 2013 at 8:47 pm

If you can ride like a car and have law when your on the road then I want to see law on lights and reflectors and traveling in the correct direction PS this also means no riding on sidewalks.

Posted by Janet Lafleur, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Nov 2, 2013 at 11:53 pm

Janet Lafleur is a registered user.

@SAM Bikes are required to have a front white light and reflectors when used at night. And of course there's a law that people must ride bikes in the direction of travel.

The state of California doesn't have a law against riding on the sidewalk. It leaves that decision to local municipalities. In Mountain View, bicycling on the sidewalk is illegal in business districts like downtown.

Of course, not everyone breaking laws are cited, regardless of whether they're riding a bike, driving a car or walking.

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