A new state law scheduled to take effect in September is intended to add a level of protection for cyclists sharing roads with motorists.
Assembly Bill 1371, known as the Three Feet for Safety Act, will require motorists to provide at least a 3-foot buffer in most instances when passing cyclists on roadways. The bill, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in September, carries with it a base fine of $35 (approximately $150 with additional fees) for violators and a $220 fine in the event of a collision that causes bodily harm.
Los Altos Police Capt. Andy Galea said the city’s vast cycling community should see some benefits from the new law as it takes effect. He added that the law makes enforcement less of a judgment call for patrol officers than previous laws, which called for motorists to pass cyclists on the road “at a safe distance without interfering with the safe operation of the overtaken vehicle or bicycle.”
“Three feet is very definitive – and it’s easier to judge,” Galea said of enforcing the new law. “Really, anyone coming within 3 feet of cyclists – it’s just too close. Hopefully it will cut down on collisions and make it safer for the cycling community.”
Hard to enforce?
Two local cyclists say they’re not sure the new law will change much of anything.
Los Altos resident and avid cyclist Gary Hedden said that while the law could make enforcement easier for police, it likely wouldn’t change the overall habits of motorists in Los Altos.
“People who are careful drivers, and that’s the majority in Los Altos, leave 3 feet or more when they pass a bicycle, and they will continue to leave 3 feet or more next year,” Hedden stated in an email to the Town Crier. “The small group of people who are careless will continue to be careless. The law won’t easily change that.”
Hedden said the same logic holds true for motorists who have complained to him that the new law will make it “impossible” for motorists to pass a bike on a narrow road.
“The law allows drivers to slow down and carefully pass when road conditions don’t allow 3 feet. That’s what careful drivers do now, and will continue to do next year,” he said.
Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) Chairwoman Suzanne Ambiel, meanwhile, believes that enforcement of the new law won’t be as easy as it seems.
“The 3-foot law is nice, but is it enforceable? It’s going to be hard to do that,” said Ambiel, speaking on her own behalf, not as a representative of BPAC. “I mean, if you don’t have a way to really measure it, how could you know for sure?”
If anything, Ambiel said, the new law should be more effective in rural areas and would at least spread awareness to motorists about the dangers cyclists face on roads.
“It’s more recognition that bicycles belong on the roads, too,” said Ambiel, who noted that she’s had countless close calls “on any street you can imagine in every city.”
Galea agreed, noting that the new law should make some drivers more cautious when turning or executing other movements where potential conflicts exist.
“As this law begins to take effect and starts to get reinforced, hopefully people will become more aware of it,” he said. “That’s the big benefit of this.”
Ambiel concluded that the best advice she could give to motorists and cyclists sharing the roads is rather simple – at least in concept.
“It all boils down to everyone using some common sense and common courtesy – whether in a car or on a bike,” she said. “Common sense and courtesy go a long way in everything you do.”