Bicycle buffer zones proposed in state Legislature

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A cyclist passes cars. Photo by baudman via Flickr/CC

The state Senate has approved a bill that would require drivers to stay at least three feet away from bicyclists as they pass them.

That’s despite the fact that Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a nearly identical bill last year.

The bill is meant to protect bicyclists from aggressive motorists who drive close to bikes on purpose, in order to intimidate riders.

The legislation would require a driver to leave at least three feet of space when passing a bicycle. If drivers can’t leave that much room because of road conditions, they need to at least slow down and only pass if they can do so safely. Violating the law would lead to fines starting at $35.

Governor Brown vetoed a bill just like it a year ago. He says he’s worried there could be more crashes if drivers cross the center line or slow down too much to pass cyclists. He said then that the state could be held liable for those crashes. Assemblyman Steven Bradford sponsored the bill, and added new language to address those concerns.

Senator Mark DeSaulnier carried the bill in the Senate, and said California is one of 32 states that have so-called safe distance laws. But California law doesn’t specify a safe distance. He said the law is needed until California puts in more infrastructure to make cycling or walking safer.

Opponents of the bill say it’s hard to estimate a three-foot distance while driving.

The bill now goes back to the state Assembly for a final vote.