Editor’s note: John Vonhof is a Manteca resident who has pedaled 5,000 miles so far on a road bike this year. He indicated he tries to make himself visible and be safe but has had a lot of close calls.
Effective Sept. 16, 2014 California will join 22 other states in defining the safe passing distance between motor vehicles and bicycles.
The new law requires that motorists yield at least three feet of clearance between any part of the motor vehicle and any part of the bicycle or cyclist when passing a bicycle traveling in the same direction. Officially called the “Three Feet for Safety Act”, the specifics are spelled out in California Vehicle Code Section 21760. It specifies that if a driver cannot leave three feet of space, they must slow to a reasonable and prudent speed, and pass only when it would not endanger the cyclist’s safety. Violations of the law are punishable by fines starting at $35 and if unsafe passing results in a crash that injures a cyclist, the driver could face a $220 fine plus court costs.
Although many roads have bike lanes, there are times when a cyclist may have to come out of the bike lane and into the traffic lane:
• When there is glass, gravel, or other debris in the bike lane, or puddles the cyclist cannot see through
• When vehicles are parked in the bike lane
• When pavement defects, potholes or drainage grates are in the bike lane
• When turning left
• When the cyclist cannot see road conditions ahead because of obstructions
• When construction intrudes into the bike lane
• Moving into the traffic lane at intersections make the cyclist more visible, protects them from passing cars; cars making a right turn, which can hit a cyclist in the bike lane; and cars turning left and unable to see a cyclist behind or along side a passing vehicle, and hitting the cyclist once the car has passed the cyclist
AAA Northern California’s website gives tips for motorists on sharing the road with bicyclists:
• Bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as motorists, including the right to ride in the traffic lane
• Stay alert—avoid all distractions while driving
• Yield to bicyclists when turning. In bad weather, give bicyclists extra passing room, just as you would other motorists
• Make a visual check for bicyclists by checking mirrors and blind spots before entering or leaving a lane of traffic
• Slow down and give at least 3 feet of clearance when passing. Reduce your speed when passing bicyclists, especially when the road is narrow
• Never honk your horn at a bicyclist—it could cause them to swerve into traffic or off the roadway and crash
• Always check for bicyclists before opening your car door
• Children on bicycles are often unpredictable—expect the unexpected