HUNTINGTON BEACH (AP) — Experienced cyclists cruising past crashing waves off Southern California’s scenic Pacific Coast Highway know they must be vigilant of cars whizzing past and don’t expect that to change with a new bike safety law.
Before heading out on a ride from the Huntington Beach pier with a dozen cyclists, 68-year-old Mike Tasker said a driver nearly hit him when trying to snare a parking spot.
“I’ll feel safer when I see the numbers, and it’s actually working,” Tasker said of the new law to create a buffer zone for bikes. “Right now, I’m leery.”
Under statewide regulations taking effect Tuesday, drivers must give bikes a buffer zone of at least 3 feet while passing. Cited violators will face a fine of $35, which could turn into $220 if a collision occurs.
Previously, motorists were expected to keep a safe distance when passing a bicyclist, but the law did not specify how far that should be.
California is one of 24 states to create a 3-foot buffer zone for bikes. The move comes as bicycling is on the rise in California, jumping 50 percent since 2000, according to statistics provided by the California Bicycle Coalition.
It also comes after the state’s bicycle fatalities surpassed 150 in 2012, a 7 percent uptick from the previous year, said Officer Mike Harris, a spokesman for California Highway Patrol. He could not say whether there was increased casualty rate for bicyclists or whether more accidents occurred because there were more bikes on the road.
Supporters said the measure passed last year is more about educating drivers than slapping them with fines. With the law, bicycle advocates hope law enforcement will post traffic signs alerting drivers to the need to give cyclists space, said Dave Snyder, the Coalition’s executive director.
“This law will hopefully educate those motorists who don’t understand that it really is important. You have to do it. It’s the law,” Snyder said.
Cyclists may legally use a full traffic lane on California roads but must follow the same laws as cars, including stopping at red lights and stop signs.
Cyclists welcomed the new law but were skeptical it would be enforced or make a difference to careless motorists they see doing everything from texting to shaving to eating a burrito behind the wheel. Some drivers, they said, are downright hostile, pulling up to cyclists so they feel a buzz as the car zooms past.
“People pass so close you’d think they don’t like the color of your handlebar tape, and they’re trying to take it off,” said John McBrearty, a 64-year-old lawyer and avid cyclist in Long Beach. He said he doubted the law’s meager penalties would deter drivers.
Ira Toibin, who rides between 200 and 250 miles a week, said the law will only work if people are willing to appear in court to stand up to alleged violators who are ticketed by police.
The 65-year-old retired educational administrator said he was thrown from his bike soon after he began riding about a decade ago when a car’s swerving trailer struck his front wheel. He landed in the emergency room, and said he’s lucky to be alive.
“You have to ride assuming that somebody isn’t going to be looking and doesn’t see you,” Toibin said. “You have to make that assumption accordingly; otherwise you’re going to get hit by a car.”