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State Senate passes bill: Space for bikes in traffic

May 25, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
A big boost for bicycle riders in California: The state Senate passed a bill Friday requiring drivers give 3 feet of space between the vehicles and the bicycle. Cyclists are cheering the new measure.

High school student Nathaniel Wallner, 16, knows it can be hairy to share the road with cars. He got hit from behind going to class recently and ended up with bruises.

"My bike started sliding out from underneath me, like this, and I had to push myself up off the car, and I fell to the side onto the curb," said Wallner. "Thankfully I wasn't hurt."

The California State Senate just approved a bill requiring drivers to give cyclists at least a 3-foot safety zone when there's no bicycle lane or shoulder as they're passing from behind.

The buffer could help reduce fatal collisions and dangerous falls. The idea is to give Californians more confidence to ride their bikes since about half of their trips are 3 miles or less.

"Californians want to ride their bikes for those trips. They're short, easy trips," said Dave Snyder, executive director of the California Bicycle Coalition. "But they're afraid to because they know if they get hit from behind, the chances of them surviving are not very good."

Forty percent of bicyclists who die in a vehicle collision are hit from behind.

Some cyclists have said privately this proposal could aggravate the already-tenuous relationship they have with drivers, and drivers aren't sure how it would be implemented.

"I'm not sure how they are going to measure that or enforce that, or as a driver, when you're driving by, how are you going to be able to know the distance of three feet?" said motorist Lisa Lanterman.

Under the proposal, violating the 3-foot rule would be an infraction which could count as a point on your driving record and the fines are expensive: $35 if there's no injury; $220 if there is. When you add in local and court fees, that's almost $1000 for the most serious offense.

Nathaniel Wallner would welcome the 3-foot safety zone.

"Which would be about my arm's length -- from here to my fingertips," said Wallner. "Three feet would definitely be a lot more protection."

The proposal now heads to the state Assembly.

About 20 other states have similar legislation.


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