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« Irrational Fear | Main | Story of a frame and its owner »

Jerry Brown vetoes 3 foot law

California is fast becoming a bicycle friendly state, with cities like San Francisco, Long Beach, and even car centric Los Angeles making huge steps to accommodate cyclists.

Last Friday, bike riders in the Golden State were handed a big setback from none other than their own Governor Jerry Brown when he vetoed a three foot passing law for cyclists being passed by another vehicle; the same three feet given to cyclists in 19 other states.

He reason for failing to approve the bill; there was a clause that stated if a driver can’t give a cyclist three feet then they should slow to 15 mph. when passing.

Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol were opposed to the bill because… wait for it… there might be a danger of cars rear ending each other if a motor vehicle had to slow to pass a cyclist. 

Give me a break… Cars have to slow down or stop for all manner of reasons; a vehicle waiting to turn left is probably the most common. If someone runs in the back of another vehicle they are either following too close, or they are not paying attention.

Speed limits are just that, a limit on how fast you can drive, not the speed you must maintain at all times; people need to get used to this concept. The actual speed depends on road and weather conditions.

So what Jerry Brown, Caltrans and the CHP is saying is that it is okay to rear end a cyclist, if braking and slowing may cause the idiot who is tailgating you, to rear end you. Not a smart move Jerry Brown, there must be tens, if not hundreds of thousands of cyclists in California and you’ve just lost their vote.

My own state of South Carolina does not have a three foot law per se; it simply states that a cyclist must be given a safe distance when passing. A safe distance depends a lot on the speed of the vehicle passing. I really don’t have a problem if a car gives me less than three feet, if they slow to just a few mph. more than my speed. If they go by at 60 mph. three feet is not enough.

Recently when a local cyclist was killed by a distracted driver, the charge was “Improper lane use” with a fine of $115. So in this case passing at a safe distance for some reason didn’t apply.

Always when a state tries to pass a three foot law, the opposition says it is unenforceable. Maybe so, but it is a good guideline; most people know how much space three feet is. However, unless there are penalties, serious consequences for killing or injuring a cyclist, then “Safe Distance” or “Three Feet” it makes little difference.

When Texas Governor Rick Perry vetoed a similar bill in that state, the City of Austin passed its own three foot law; this is probably the way California cities will have to go.

In the mean time Jerry Brown did approve a couple of other important pieces of legislation. A bill to ban the sale of shark fins in California, and another to prevent cities from banning circumcision.

This means sharks are safe now; cyclists and little boy’s penises… not so safe.



Reader Comments (15)

I agree with you, Dave: while the law may not be strictly enforceable, just the fact that it's on the books will be a great aid to safety. Most vehicle drivers don't want to break the law (knowingly).

If it did ever enter the books, a few ads on TV about '3 feet - it's the law' would go a long way towards education of the public --- especially as car drivers don't have to retake the written portion of their exams once they're awarded their license.

October 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterYohann

Yes the 3' law is for education (good) since rarely enforced (disappointing). Thanks for the Monday morning laugh: "cyclists and little boy’s penises… not so safe." Cyclists are like little dicks.

October 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJack

Well said Dave. The good news is this:California cyclists are not going to give up. They came close this time. With a more unified front and some education, I believe California cyclists will get their 3 foot law next time they can go for it.

Joe Mizereck

October 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJoe Mizereck

They need to drop the clause that says, “If you can’t give 3 feet, slow to 15 mph;" it just makes the issue more complicated than it has to be. If Jerry Brown had been on the ball he could have warned legislators he would veto unless they dropped that clause, instead of vetoing whole thing and sending back to be rewritten.

October 10, 2011 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

The three-foot law is like the No Texting Law: Does reading a text count as ‘texting’? Does reading a GPS count as ‘texting’? How about reading a map? Or printed directions? Or looking at your cell phone for the date or time?
How about leaving driving to the driver; if they fail, they pay. But trying to prevent failure through laws is futile.
There are way too many ways a driver can fail for laws to ever cover (much less prevent). And that is the problem with government: it can never control people. Already been tried with Capitalism, Democracy, Socialism, Communism, Dictatorships and Tyranny. Stop trying.
You just piss people off…at least the good ones.

October 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

I agree to a point, but just as drunk driving laws do not stamp it out entirely, the financial threat of legal costs running into many thousands or even prison time make most people think twice about driving drunk. TV adds bring this point home very well.
If there were similar serious penalties if someone dies as a result of carelessness, like cell phone use; it would go a long way to make people take responsibility for their own actions. Nearly all so called accidents are driver error and are entirely preventable.

October 10, 2011 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

...the financial threat of legal costs...

Yep. People can obey the law/follow the rule because they value the law/rule, or fear the consequences of violating/breaking it. Personally, I honestly do not care which condition motivates the individual to conform. As a cyclist the results I experience are the same. Valuing or responding. It's all the same to me when I'm sharing the road with motorists.

October 10, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbystander


Rather than strive for a "warm, fuzzy" feel good 3-foot passing law, we cyclists could be better served by having the FTR (Far to Right) statutes, or those similar repealed or abolished in our respective states/locales, and ultimately the UTC (Uniform Traffic Code)

Most states (U.S.) define a bicycle AS a vehicle or device and similarly grant both the same rights and responsibilities with regards to licensed motor vehicle operator(s).

Just because our preferred conveyance happens to be a bicycle, we are not second class citizens! Why must we continue to marginalize ourselves with this issue?

Read Civility

October 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRodney

Check out the video. This is on a high speed (45+ mph) multi-lane road. Proper lane positioning communicates well to other road users.

We need to reach higher than three feet..."Passing clearance is the least of the issue with abusive behavior. Second, no matter how much you publicize that law, it is not going to make up for bad lane position. If cyclists ride so far right that motorists can squeeze through, they will. They just can’t help it! Impatience plus opportunity overrides reason, consideration and law..."

October 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRodney

I agree with your position on this subject Dave. I do wonder if setting a specific passing speed is the best idea. I know that as a regular commuter a cruise at about 16 miles an hour that would make passing me at 15 impossible. Although I don't know the exact language of this law I think any law that specifies a specific speed would have to include a when prudent/possible clause.

October 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJ Gunther

My point is that the more a government attempts to control people, the more dishonest people become. Look at banks and other companies in China, or scams here in the U.S., or banks and businesses in Europe, or see the decline of customer service world-wide!
And how in the U.S. companies can’t find decent workers.
We have failed as a society when Cal State San Marcos has a class in civility! Imagine, college kids don’t know how to be civil?
Why do we expect government to create it?

October 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

I'm also disappointed in the veto. I also didn't like the designated safe distance. I just want police to enforce the 'safe distance' rule. Here in Sunnyvale more patrol cops are out on bikes. Perhaps that will help with the distance enforcement as they may come to know or feel what is really too close. The slowing to pass argument is just bogus.

October 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRalph

Denver Post to day.12 Oct 2011 Bicyclist hit by car KILLED. 2pm Tues on road with relatively little traffic. Some FAT good the 3 feet or 15 MPH did. The ONLY way to STAY alive is to stay off the bloody bike. ONLY and I repeat ONLY way to ride a bike is on BIKE PATHS or in group org, rides. IF you dont have a bike path talk to your local Rep, Obama will pay for it! You could even get a job building it. Remember the bike ride you are taking COULD be your LAST!

October 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGRUMPY Crump

I am sorry but I can't agree with you on this one. And I can't allow fear to stop me doing what I love, that is ride my bike on the road. Come to think of it, if I give into fear I may as well be dead.

October 12, 2011 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

I agree with you Dave, We can not live in fear, But to read so often that ANOTHER cyclist has died or been hurt is just NOT right. Untill the public is educated and made to give us bike riders the respect we deserve we will be in fear, Why can not the goverment spend some of the $s on bike lanes and bike paths? we pay taxes. We both have ridden many many miles doing the thing that we love, why should we be treated this way? By the way Dave even with a hip replacement this year, I have ridden 6k miles, down from 9K last year. In fact I do more miles on my bike than in MY car. This includes many many miles ridden on the ROADS! Keep on twiddling mate. This is one event that we MUST win!

October 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGRUMPY Crump

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