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Drivers, get out your yardsticks — new California law requires 3-foot buffer for bikes

Cyclists attend a press conference for the Three Feet for Safety Act on Wednesday morning, Sept. 10 at Serious Cycling in Northridge. Starting September 16, drivers must give cyclists at least three feet of clearance. Maya Sugarman/KPCC

A new law takes effect next week requiring drivers to stay three-feet from bicycles when passing them on California roads.

Backers said it replaces previous rules that were vague about what a "safe" distance is.

“The current law states you need to pass a cyclist by a ‘safe distance.’ A lot of people say that’s arbitrary,” said Assemblyman Steven Bradford, who authored the law. “Well now we’ve stated the safe distance is at least three feet.”

That's roughly the distance from your right shoulder to your left finger tip.

The law takes effect Tuesday September 16, but patrol officers won't be hanging out on city roads doing sweeps.

“Law enforcement won’t have a ruler or yard stick out to measure that,” Bradford said. He said the focus of his legislation is more on education than enforcement.

The California Highway Patrol reports 153 cyclists were killed in car accidents in 2012. In Los Angeles County, 4,958 cyclists were killed or hurt in accidents with cars that year.

“This three-feet law is super important to me,” said Ann Pagan of North Hills, who rides with a cycling group each weekend and attended a CHP press conference Wednesday. “For me personally, I was hit by an SUV during a group ride. So I really want to support a roll out of such a great law.”

The Auto Club of Southern California is participating in the three-feet safety awareness campaign.

“Everybody has to think in their own mind what three feet means and keep that in mind when you see a bicyclist and get ready to pass them,” said Marianne Kim, transportation policy specialist with the Auto Club.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misquoted Assemblyman Steven Bradford due to a typo. KPCC regrets the error.