Bill would require drivers to give cyclists more room

May 25, 2012 6:26:27 PM PDT
High school student Nathaniel Wallner knows it can be hairy to share the road with cars. The 16-year-old got hit from behind going to class recently and ended up with bruises.

"My bike started sliding out from underneath me like this," Wallner said as he demonstrated what happened. "I had to push myself up off the car, and I fell to the side on to the curb. Thankfully I wasn't hurt."

The California State Senate just approved a bill requiring drivers to give cyclists a safety zone of at least three feet when there's no bicycle lane or shoulder as they're passing from behind.

Forty percent of bicyclists who die in a vehicle collision are hit from behind, and the buffer could help reduce fatal collisions and dangerous falls. The idea is to give Californians more confidence to ride their bike since about half of their trips taken are three miles or less.

Californians want to ride their bikes for those short trips, "but they're afraid to because they know if they get hit from behind, the chances of them surviving are not very good," said California Bicycle Coalition's Dave Snyder.

But some cyclists said the proposal could aggravate the already tenuous relationship they have with drivers, and drivers aren't sure how it would be implemented.

Motorist Lisa Lanterman said, "I'm not sure how they are going to measure that or enforce that. As a driver, when you're driving by, how are you going to be able to know the distance of three feet?"

Under the proposal, violating the three-foot rule would be an infraction which could count as a point on your driving record, and the fines are expensive: $35 if there's no injury and $220 if there is. When local and court fees are added, that's almost $1,000 for the most serious offense.

Wallner said he'd welcome the safety zone. "Three feet would definitely be a lot more protection," he said.

The bill now heads to the Assembly. About 20 other states have similar legislation.


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