California Bicyclists get a legal force field



Starting the week of Sept. 18, California’s bicyclists will be surrounded by a 3-foot bubble of legal protection. Under a new law called the Three Feet for Safety Act, it’s now illegal for a motor vehicle to pass within 3 feet of a moving bike.

The bill, which amended the vehicle code to give cyclists added protection, was passed in August 2013 and went into effect on Sept. 16 of this year. Drivers caught violating the 3-foot law will be fined $35, and drivers who hit and injure a cyclist while they’re violating the law will be fined $220.

“It may be a tricky law to enforce,” said Steve Akers, SLO County Bicycle Coalition communications director.

He added that enforcement wasn’t the purpose of the law, nor was collecting $35 fines from motorists. Its real raison d’être was education.

“We just hope this spreads awareness that bicycles are traffic, too, and have a legal right to be on the road,” Akers said.

He was quick to clarify that the law doesn’t give cyclists free reign over the road.

“We’ve seen a fear that some people believe that this means that bicyclists can ride anywhere in the road, anytime, for any reason,” Akers said. “We understand that reaction from people, but we don’t think that’s really going to be the case.

“It doesn’t mean you can ride all over the road. Ride safely as you did before. Just be aware that if you have that need, you can take the lane to get yourself out of danger. Just be courteous, as usual.”

The California Bicycle Coalition (CalBike), of which the SLO coalition is a member, pushed the legislation in Sacramento. CalBike is additionally making plans for road signs to inform California’s drivers about the 3-foot law, according to the organization’s website.

“This is already the law in 24 other states,” Akers said. “So it’s not like this is unheard of, or that we’re really trailblazing.”

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