California Cyclists Get Legal Protection

State law requires 3-foot buffer from cars

California drivers now have to share more of the road by law. (chris-mueller/ThinkStock)
traffic jam rush hour california three-foot law chp california highway patrol buffer zone cyclist safety road safety passing rear-end collisions los angeles

California became the 24th state to mandate a three-foot cyclist buffer zone rule on Tuesday at midnight, improving upon the state's ambiguous "safe distance" passing rule.

The new rule requires drivers to slow down and leave at least three feet between cars and cyclists when passing or risk $35 fines, the Los Angeles Times reports. If a collision occurs within the buffer zone and results in a cyclist's injury, fines increase to $220.

The rule, signed in September 2013 by Governor Jerry Brown, is part of a state effort to reduce cyclist injuries and fatalities, 40 percent of which occur during rear-end collisions. According to the most recent California Highway Patrol (CHP) data, 153 cyclists died on state roads in 2012 because of car collisions and 13,861 were injured.

When driving on roads that are too narrow to allow a three-foot buffer zone, motorists will have to reduce their speed and wait to pass until the road widens. A CHP press release notes that cyclists are legally allowed to use full lanes on narrow roads to discourage cars from passing.

Patrol officers plan to enforce the rule by watching vehicles and gauging passing distances and speeds by sight, which they are trained to do at the CHP Academy.

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