Sharing is not just caring: How the Three Feet for Safety Act will help make roads safer for all

Torrey Spoerer

On Tuesday Sept. 16, a new state road law cited as the Three Feet for Safety Act, requiring motorists to give bicyclists a minimum 3-foot barrier of space at all times, officially went into effect and made California the 23rd state in the nation to uphold guidelines on measuring space distance when sharing the road.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa sponsored Assemblyman Steven Bradford’s AB1371, as an avid cyclist who was injured in 2010 after a taxi driver abruptly pulled in front of him. It also drew support from several cyclist groups, such as the California Association of Bicycling Organizations.

Many Californians hearing about the new law may be asking “But wait – wasn’t there already a law for letting cyclists use the road?”

The previous law stated that drivers were to keep a safe distance when passing a bicyclist, yet it never specified how far that “safe” distance be exactly.

Basically, as long as the driver could claim “That’s the most space I can give on this road,” then that means that their side mirror could legally be inches away from a cyclist’s face without any potential penalty for putting said cyclist within inches of harms way.

Considering that along with the massive lack of both protected bike lanes and of new room or funds for building such lanes, the new law is one of the only current cost-efficient methods available to San Diego for effectively protecting cyclists from aggressive drivers.

A violation of the new 3-foot requirement is now punishable by fines starting at $35. If unsafe passing results in a crash that injures the cyclist, the driver could face a $220 fine.

Another important question that is brought up by both supporters and critics alike is how to enforce and judge the measuring of the safe distance between cyclist and motorist on the road.

Some lawmakers, including Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, opposed Bradford’s bill by claiming that estimating 3 feet while driving is, somehow, too difficult of a task to be worth putting into effective law.

So according to Huff, while drivers are able every day to keep safe distances from each others cars, pedestrians, curbs, crosswalks, busses and potholes, bicyclists are somehow too difficult to measure a safe distance from while behind the wheel?

However, Bradford’s spokesman, Matt Stauffer, states that the case-by-case enforcement will be up to local police departments, and that the overall aim is more to remind drivers and cyclists that they have a responsibility to behave safely on the road, Stauffer said.

The simply logical goal that this new law is meant to achieve is to finally provide clear information in the book of law to drivers about passing cyclists at a safe distance.

Cyclists should not have to fear for their lives just because they chose to commute on the road where they belong.