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December 19, 2006

Assembly Bill 60: Fighting to change state law

............ by 36 inches. ;-D

Santa Barbara assemblyman, Democrat Pedro Nava, in memory of a 21-year-old bicyclist struck and killed by a trailer truck on a narrow Santa Barbara road, is pushing for a 3-foot buffer zone for bicycles that are passed by cars or other motor vehicles.

"It's from your nose to the end of your fingertip," Nava said. "It's an easy distance to remember. And I think it's the least we can do for bicycle safety."

Violators would be subject to base fines of $250, rising to about $875 once local fees are tacked on. Motorists could be charged criminally if a bicyclist were killed or seriously injured.

Nava is pushing his measure, Assembly Bill 60, in honor of Kendra Chiota Payne, a triathlete for the University of California, Santa Barbara, who died in a morning training run last January.

He 1st brought this up last year ( AB 1941 ), but it was rejected by the AssemblyTransportation Committee.

The new version ( Press Release - 12/4/06. ) may have a better chance because he is now the Committee Chairman. ;-D

Current California law does not specify a minimum clearance but says motorists must pass to the left at a "safe distance without interfering with the safe operation" of a bicycle.

Opponents argue AB 60 would create unintended consequences in a state stretching hundreds of miles, with roads generally 11 or 12 feet wide, not counting shoulders or parking slots.

"I think the objective is admirable," said Assemblyman Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar. "But I just don't think our roads are wide enough to accommodate what they're trying to do."

Huff said the math doesn't add up: A 2-foot-wide bicycle, a 7-foot-wide car and a 3-foot-wide buffer zone can't squeeze into an 11-foot lane and would cram a 12-foot lane.

AB 60 could solve one safety problem by creating another, forcing cars routinely to cross center lines into oncoming traffic to honor the 3-foot buffer, critics say.

Nava's bill ( Official Page with all current Legislative Info. ) also would allow motorists to overtake or pass a bicycle by using separate lanes currently designated only for left or U-turns.

The result could be disastrous: Cars that slow or stop in the lanes, preparing to turn, would be confronted by cars accelerating to pass bicycles, critics claim.

"If you're actually encouraging people to use that as a passing lane, it could create additional problems," said Sean Comey, spokesman for the California State Automobile Association, which has concerns about AB 60 but has taken no formal position.

Huff said AB 60 could create enforcement problems as well. Neither motorists nor traffic officers, traveling at typical speeds, could tell with certainty that a car was exactly 3 feet -- not 2.5 -- from a bicycle, Huff said.

"It's not like you have a standard gauge hanging out your car that says 3 feet," he said.

Last Spring I expressed support for AB 1941, but a lot has happened since to change my mind.

I started a Category on Sharing the Road for a reason, and the responsibility for doing so is not just on the motorist, but the cyclist as well.

Cops have more important things to do, in my book, than running around, measuring tape at the ready, stopping every driver in sight who they think may have just NOT given sufficient room when passing me on the road.

Truck Driver advocates, and the Teamsters are none too pleased...

Theses folks are a powerful bunch.

The Amalgamated Transit Union and the California Teamsters Public Affairs Council, which argued that it could be particularly onerous to truck drivers, and that a 3-foot buffer could narrow instantly if a bicyclist swerved.

Other states have simlilar laws to the one being proposed.

Arizona, Minnesota, Utah, and Wisconsin, to be specific.

Cycling advocates are weighing in on this issue:

Justin Fanslau of the California Bicycle Coalition said bicyclists routinely are crowded by insensitive motorists.

On a typical 60-mile Saturday bike ride, he said, "I'd say six different cars will buzz by me, without slowing down or making any real effort to avoid or mitigate the circumstances on the road."

"It doesn't make you feel safe," added Walt Seifert of Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates. "And that's the kind of thing that will discourage people from cycling."

California law, by requiring only a "safe distance" for passage -- not a specific buffer -- can prompt motorists to conclude that close calls don't matter as long as a bicycle isn't struck, Nava said.

I want to know what will be accomplished by legislating common sense?

Any cyclist with half a brain, and any motorist with a full one, knows to be careful on the road, and making a law, with fines, will not cure the problem.

Too many motorists already think we don't belong next to them on the street, and Nava wants to punish them, instead of inform them, and that won't sit well with these folks.

By saying that cyclists need a new law, in addition to what the Code already advises, to make riding in the street safer, he is confirming fears of the far too many cyclists who are too afraid to ride there, and prefer to ride in the more dangerous environment of the sidewalk, even when local laws forbid it.

Educating the far too many cyclists, and motorists, who don't already have their heads screwed on straight about safely sharing the road, is a better way to change peoples attitudes, and behaviors.

The article:

Sacramento Bee -- 12/18/06 -- Wider berth for bicyclists sought to cut road deaths By Jim Sanders.

December 19, 2006 in Life on the Street: Local, and state Laws, and other topics, Share the Road, and Trail: Safety Matters! | Permalink


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Well, I think the easiest solution is just to get rid of all the cars. Think of the room we'll have on the roads! ;D

Posted by: Robert | Dec 19, 2006 11:47:16 PM

The opposition comments are mostly nonsense. The legislation is only stating what should be obvious. If you can't safely pass a bicycle at a certain point in the road, you just have to wait until you do. On most roads, you very quickly arrive at a point where the sight lines allow passing by moving over slightly onto the double lines. You'd seldom have to cross over to the other side to pass a bike, the way a car has to pass another car, even with the 3 foot rule. They seem to be arguing that it is OK to almost graze a bicyclist when passing them.

My main objection to this law is that it doesn't take relative speed into account. At higher passing speeds, say greater than 40 mph, the wind blast from a truck is too great to pass a bike at 3 feet.

The police wouldn't spend much time enforcing this law. Like many others, it would be used mostly after an accident. But it would be nice if the police occasionally used such laws to pull over agressive drivers.

Posted by: Peter R | Dec 20, 2006 9:25:04 AM

RE: "The legislation is only stating what should be obvious. If you can't safely pass a bicycle at a certain point in the road, you just have to wait until you do."

If we put in writing every little thing that is "obvious" in our everyday lives, and add a fine for not following the "law", just because someone has been, or could get, hurt, then our law books would be more stuffed with unneeded laws than they already are, law enforcement would be oppressive as it becomes an Orwellian Watchdog, and court systems would be more overburdened than they already are with frivolous lawsuits.

One example of this nonsense is how No Smoking Laws have evolved from making indoor venues, and work places, a "safe place" for me, as a non-smoker, to making the beaches "safe" for me to frolic at, to trying to invade a man's Castle to make sure his kids are "safe" from his habit.

You can't make bicycling 100% "safe" no matter how many laws you make, and fines you make people pay.

An informed cyclist is a safer cyclist, just as with a Motorist.

Cycling related laws have their place, but Cycling Safety starts with education.

Educate drivers, and cyclists, especially when they begin to drive, or ride, about how to share the road, and there will be less need for more laws.

Money spent on such efforts will be money well spent.

Posted by: Kiril, The Cycling Dude | Dec 20, 2006 12:21:12 PM

In general, bicycles and cars are suppose to interact like any other vehicles on the road. Education is very useful to help people understand this.

But there is one major difference in bicycle regulations. Under many conditions, bicycles are required by law to lane share. This causes all manners of confusion with both bicyclists and auto drivers. Because of this, I think it would actually help to have a traffic rule defining what safe passing means in a lane sharing situation.

A lot of the comments by people against such a rule illustrates the level of confusion. Because lane sharing violates standard road practices, I think something more is needed than simple education. The 3 foot passing rule would immediately clarify things.

Posted by: peter r | Dec 20, 2006 1:16:36 PM

AB 60 will offer scant real improvement for bicyclists, but will consume the already meager lobbying strength of California's bicyclists.

If Assembly Member Nava--prompted by the death of a constitutent--wants to do something to improve bicycling safety in the state then how about a bill to triple the Bicycle Transportation Account, now a measly $5 million? Or perhaps legislation to allocate more from the highway heavy Prop. 1B for bikes?

A larger BTA could fund bike safety programs and street enhancements across California, yielding better results than a law most motorists will ignore or violate anyway.

I'd hate to think of the CBC's talented lobbyist (Justin Fanslau) wasting his time pursuing support for such minimal results.

Show me the money!

Posted by: Paul Dorn | Dec 20, 2006 5:20:25 PM

I agree with Paul in that more funding is needed, yet I also believe we have failed at education in many areas. I have heard we spend more money on our prison systems than we do on our schools. AB 60 is the quickest and fairest thing to do at this point since education has been undereffective. No doubt this is due to underfunding. That is something we should also be working on. But laws are made all the time to further punish those who are socially irresponsible in their behavior so why discriminate against cyclists by not passing this law? Unsafe passing of cyclists by motorists needs a measurment value to assist in its enforcement. While common sense should always be the norm when motorists excercise their privelages to drive a motor vehicle, ignorance, inattentiveness or even impatience often take over when behind the wheel of a car. This bill merely introduces the much needed measurement unit to assist in defining what common sense and safe passing distances are. I can't tell you how many times motorists have buzzed me or friends when on their bicycles particularily on roads with substandard width lanes. While the CVC specifically allows bicyclists to take the center of a substandard width lane to prevent motorists from making errors in judgement, many bicyclists are not confident in their ability to take control of their own safety by riding in this manner and both motorists and law enforcement have little knowledge of this law. AB 60 is merely an overdue part of the motorists educational process that should have taken place long ago. I am surprised that four other States enacted this law before California! While we are at it, why do we allow anyone under the age of 18 to drive at all when the National Institue of Health has proven that human brains have not fully developed the ability to control risky behavior until they are 25 years old? (www.18todrive.com) In any event, I am sending a donation to the California Bicycle Coalition and requesting everyone I know to support AB 60 as well as donate to the CBC so they can keep up their fine work.

Posted by: Brad | Jan 9, 2007 3:39:48 PM

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