Take Two

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New Calif. law: Drivers must give bikes 3 feet of space before passing

by Leo Duran | Take Two

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Cyclists and California Highway Patrol officers demonstrate what three feet between cars and bikes looks like. Starting September 16, drivers must give cyclists at least three feet of clearance. Maya Sugarman/KPCC

A new law takes effect in California Tuesday: Drivers must give bicyclists three feet as they pass them on the road.

"Prior to this law, there was no clearly defined safe passing distance," says Colin Bogart from the LA County Bicycle Coalition.

But most people don't hold a yard stick out their passenger side window. So, what's three feet anyway?

"I think people have a good sense of what three feet looks like without realizing it," says Bogart.

One way to think about it is if a biker can reach out his or her arm and touch your vehicle, you're probably closer than three feet.

Here's how the law works:

  • The law applies to any place a vehicle passes a bicyclist, regardless of whether there's a bike lane in the road.
  • A law enforcement officer must witness a violation to issue a fine. Bystanders' accounts or video recordings made by the bicyclist — on a GoPro, for example — aren't admissible.
  • Violators face at least a $35 fine, and a $220 fine if a collision occurs. Both can increase when court fees are added.
  • There is one exception to the new law: If there's not enough room for a driver to give three feet of space. In that case, they must first slow down before safely passing.

Here are a few more examples of laws, some specific to LA County, that Bogart says more people should be aware of:

  • Bikers must obey traffic signs and signals like every other vehicle.
  • Many cities have different rules. Biking on the sidewalks in Los Angeles is permitted, for example, but cross into the cities of Beverly Hills or Santa Monica and it's illegal. 
  • You can wear earphones or headphones, but must have one ear open to traffic at all times.
  • Riding while talking on a cell phone is permitted.
  • If you're a driver and need to make a right turn on a road with a bike lane, safely cross into the right turn lane if there is one. Otherwise, merge into the bike lane before the intersection. Never turn across lanes.

For more info on bicycle safety, the California DMV publishes its own guide and the California Bike Coalition has a list of rules that apply across the state.

We went for a bike ride with Bogart to navigate the new law. Have a listen at the link above.

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