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New law mandates 3-foot safety zone between cars and bicycles

Bicyclists in California just gained additional protection from motorists with the implementation of the 3-foot safety zone.

Law removes ambiguity about responsibility of drivers passing bicyclists

A law mandating a 3-foot safety zone between bicycles and passing cars went into effect across California on September 16, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The new law, which was pushed by bicycle safety advocates, clarifies not only how much distance should be between cars and bicycles, but also what the responsibilities of motorists are when sharing the road with cyclists. The previous law was largely ambiguous about what constituted a safe distance between cars and bikes.

New 3-foot rule

Under the Three Feet for Safety Act, which went into effect this month, drivers will have to ensure that there is at least three feet of space between their vehicles and any bicycle they wish to pass. If the motorist cannot ensure that there is three feet of space, such as on a narrow street, then he will have to slow down and wait until such a space opens up.

While the new law has been lauded by bicycle safety advocates, some drivers have expressed misgivings, such as the potential need to cross the center line in order to give enough space and whether they can be cited if a cyclist rides between cars stuck in traffic. California police have assured such drivers, however, that they have little to worry about as police have plenty of discretion when issuing citations.

Citations and liability

According to the Beach Reporter, California becomes the 22nd state to enact such a law. Violators of the law face a $35 fine plus court costs, which could drive that figure to over $150. Additionally, if the driver violates the law and, in so doing, collides with a cyclist and injures him or her, then the fine rises to up to $220 plus court costs.

Furthermore, a violation of the new California law creates a presumption that in a collision between a bicycle and car, it is the motorist who violated his or her duty of care towards the bicyclist. As such, an injured cyclist could pursue damages against the at-fault driver through a personal injury lawsuit.

Bicycle injuries

As cycling becomes more popular, both as a form of transportation and for recreation purposes, the number of accidents between bicycles and motor vehicles is likely to increase. While both cyclists and motorists have a responsibility to share the road, in the event of a collision it is almost always the cyclist who suffers the worse injuries.

In many cases, bicyclists are injured because a motorist failed to properly follow the traffic rules, such as the three-foot safety zone described above. Anybody who has been injured in a bicycle accident should contact a personal injury attorney as soon as possible. An experienced attorney can help injured cyclists understand their rights and whether they may have a case to pursue compensation against an at-fault driver.

Keywords: bicycle safety, 3-foot zone, bicycle accident, California