Why CABO supports AB 1371, “Three Feet for Safety Act”
What follows is the CABO President’s point of view followed by more detailed evaluation of Calif. Veh. Code current and proposed, paraphrased from research and text by Serge Issakov.
I support this bill because of my expectation, well hope, that incidences of antagonistic or clueless “buzz-backs”/scary close passing and hit from behind crashes will subside as people learn about the “Three Feet for Safety Act.” Passage of the bill can communicate that the legislature and the Governor respect the right for people to choose sustainable/Active Transportation – bicycling – for some of their travels; sometimes using bicycles in traffic lanes. I understand and accept that “Three Feet” is an arbitrary minimum distance for a vehicle to pass a person on a bicycle in the same lane. It may also be difficult for people or traffic enforcement personnel to gauge a yard of space; we’ll see. But, I recommend to anyone opposing the intent of this bill – a bill that only reinforces existing safe passing code (CVC 21750) – to do some, more, any bicycling in regular traffic; to experience what it’s like from the bicyclists point of view to try to use a full lane or “Share” lanes with people intent on speeding by without changing lanes. Unfortunately it won’t take too many days of bicycling experiences to find out what fear of close passing is about. Although I am in support of this bill, I will take this opportunity to say I was of course hoping for more. Not just for more distance from vehicles, but for more far reaching and substantive changes toward wider recognition that people should expect to be able to use our public roads while riding bicycles. CABO has developed and will be bringing recommendations for traffic law and enforcement changes. Our intent being to increase safety while encouraging sustainable and efficient transportation cheaply, such as repeal or major rewrite of CVC 21202, CVC 21208 and clean-up of a few other bicycling related vehicle codes – maybe next year.
Now, here’s a link and significant text, followed by some analysis from some CABO Board members, and finally our CABO recommendation letter to the Governor.
Currently, the passing of bicyclists is covered by 21750: The driver of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle or a bicycle proceeding in the same direction shall pass to the left at a safe distance without interfering with the safe operation of the overtaken vehicle or bicycle, subject to the limitations and exceptions hereinafter stated.
Section 2 of AB1371 amends 21750 to remove the references to bicycles, resulting in this:
21750. (a) The driver of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle proceeding in the same direction shall pass to the left at a safe distance without interfering with the safe operation of the overtaken vehicle, subject to the limitations and exceptions set forth in this article.
(b) This section shall become operative on September 16, 2014.
Section 3 of AB1371 adds 21760, as follows:
21760. (a) This section shall be known and may be cited as the Three Feet for Safety Act.
(b) The driver of a motor vehicle overtaking and passing a bicycle that is proceeding in the same direction on a highway shall pass in compliance with the requirements of this article applicable to overtaking and passing a vehicle, and shall do so 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, visibility, and the surface and width of the highway.
(c) A driver of a motor vehicle shall not overtake or pass a bicycle proceeding in the same direction on a highway at a distance of less than three feet between any part of the motor vehicle and any part of the bicycle or its operator.
(d) If the driver of a motor vehicle is unable to comply with subdivision (c), due to traffic or roadway conditions, the driver shall slow to a speed that is reasonable and prudent, and may pass only when doing so would not endanger the safety of the operator of the bicycle, taking into account the size and speed of the motor vehicle and bicycle, traffic conditions, weather, visibility, and surface and width of the highway.
(e) (1) A violation of subdivision (b), (c), or (d) is an infraction punishable by a fine of thirty-five dollars ($35).
(2) If a collision occurs between a motor vehicle and a bicycle causing bodily injury to the operator of the bicycle, and the driver of the motor vehicle is found to be in violation of subdivision (b), (c), or (d), a two-hundred-twenty-dollar ($220) fine shall be imposed on that driver.
(f) This section shall become operative on September 16, 2014.
1. We are okay with distinct treatment of bicycles by the law where it reflects an actual inherent relevant difference from other vehicles. Here the law will treat the passing of bicyclists, in 21760, separately from the passing of vehicles (which will remain in 21750). The relevant actual difference here is the great difference in weight of a typical bicycle as compared to the typical vehicle. The difference is relevant because the lack of weight makes bicycles more vulnerable in close pass situations. The proposed wording of 21760 makes it clear that the passing requirements specified there are in addition to those already required by 21750.
2. 21760(d) brings recognition into the law that safe passing distance is a function of relative speed differences as well as passing distance. 21760(d) can be referenced as a justification for using the full lane until motorists slow down before moving aside to encourage overtaking.
3. I agree with others that the underlying idea is mostly based on Far to The Right (FTR) (CVC 21202) thinking. But we live in a world where most cyclists position themselves per FTR thinking, and motorists are accustomed to passing them thoughtlessly. I believe a significant factor in the recent San Diego, Camp Pendleton fatal and injuries crashes where a bus driver apparently overlooked 3 cyclists riding on the far edge of a narrow shoulder less 2 lane road and ran into them from behind is probably the lack of habitually taking care to notice and pass cyclists with care on the part of the bus driver. The combination of 21760(c) and (d) on the books provides a platform on which to remind motorists to develop safe bicycle passing habits. While we’d like to believe our efforts to encourage cyclists into using the full lane in such situations will be a huge success, we admit the likelihood that many will remain at the edge most of the time is very likely. To the extent that this bill may help ultimately cause at least some motorists to pass edge-riding cyclists with greater care is a good thing.
4. We can certainly imagine how 21760 might be used to argue against repeal of FTR/Mandatory Bike Lane use laws, as some suggest. But I don’t think such arguments are likely to actually be made. Further, we can imagine a counter-argument to those anyway. Just like riding in door zones is trusting all motorists to never make the mistake of opening their door without looking, riding FTR is trusting all motorists to never make the mistake of passing too closely. With the passing of AB1317, we can argue that just as we ride outside of door zones due to our distrust of motorists to always comply with 22517, we avoid FTR (and favor repeal of FTR) due to our distrust of motorists to always comply with 21760.
We do not see a significant likelihood of harm to bicyclists, bicyclist rights, or CABO’s mission if this bill passes. We do see how we could use 21760 to argue legal basis for our position that FTR riding is unsafe and should not be legally required, per Point 4 above, and to argue for using the full lane during gaps to encourage motorists to slow before passing, per Point 2. It may also be the law could be used to encourage safer passing of FTR cyclists by motorists, per Point 3. Therefore, our recommendation to support the passing of AB1317.
————————- letter to Governor Brown ———————-
I, Jim Baross, President of the California Association of Bicycling Organizations, am writing to communicate our support for AB 1371, the “Three Feet For Safety Act” bill, as amended in the Senate as of August 20, 2013, after introduction by Assembly Member Bradford on February 20, 2013.
We support this bill for the following reasons.
1. To reassert the right of bicyclists to travel safely on our roadways, and the obligation of motorists to ensure this safety.
2. To bring attention to the inherent danger in unsafe close-passing of bicyclists by motorists.
3. To require mindful passing of bicyclists by motorists, with consideration to passing distance and relative passing speed as well as current conditions.