SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) — Two years after California passed a law requiring drivers to give bicyclists at least three feet of space when passing, few motorists seem to be aware of the law, and enforcement of it is spotty, at best.
A review of citation records showed that the California Highway Patrol has only issued eight tickets for violation of the “Three Feet For Safety” law since it took effect in September 2014, while fatal collisions involving cyclists in California fell about 23-percent in 2014 and 2015, they are back up dramatically in 2016.
The CHP noted that the law might be enforced more often by local police and sheriff’s departments, but records from those agencies were not available.
“If we see unsafe passing of a bicyclist, we are definitely going to take enforcement action,” CHP Public Information Officer John Fransen told KCBS. “There’s been times where we see stuff, and we do take enforcement action.” But he says officers also use those moments to educate drivers, and issue them warnings instead of tickets.
The law requires motorists to give bikes a three-foot buffer, or to slow down and wait until they can pass safely. It also requires cyclists to pull over and allow cars to pass if five or more vehicles are waiting behind them.
“I think the law has been a success,” says Robert Prinz, education director for Bicycle East Bay. “It gives us a very specific measurement” that for the first time, defines safe passing.
But Brad Butler, co-owner of the Bicycle Coffee Company in Oakland, which delivers all of its coffee by bike, doesn’t see it that way. “I’ve been hit the same number of times as before. I’ve been doored, because the cars are giving you three feet on one side, but then you’re riding so close on the other side that passengers getting out of parked vehicles will hit you.”
This reporter rode his bike in Oakland to see firsthand how many drivers follow the law. Most passed too close, and some nearly ran him off the road.
“I would guess that if you were to ask ten drivers if there was such a law, they wouldn’t know,” says Butler.
This reporter did just that. Of the ten drivers he interviewed in the East Bay, not one was aware of the law or knew there was a legally required three-foot buffer between cars and bikes.
Some of the drivers complained that many cyclists do not follow traffic laws, and shouldn’t be on the same roads as cars if they’re not going to obey the vehicle code.
The CHP pointed out that the new law is covered extensively in the DMV drivers’ manual, and it offers free classes to teach drivers how to co-exist peacefully with cyclists.
“We’re all in this together, ” said Fransen, “and we really need to be able to share the road.”