3-Foot Rule Between Bicycles and Cars Goes Into Effect

by on September 16, 2014 · 19 comments

in California, Culture, Environment

bicycles San Diego

David of San Diego, enjoys a ride around San Diego with friends.

The 3-foot rule goes into effect today, Tuesday, September 16, 2014.  A new California law – signed by Gov. Brown a year ago – called the Three Feet For Safety Act – requires vehicle drivers to stay three feet away from bicyclists while passing from behind or slow down to a “reasonable and prudent” speed. Then the driver must wait for a chance to pass safely.  It also does not allow drivers to cross a double-yellow line to pass.
A $35 fine awaits the driver for a violation of the law which jumps to $220 if there is a collision and the bicyclist is injured. The California Bicycle Coalition says, however, that with court fees, fines are really somewhere between $230 and $960.

The old law required drivers to give cyclists a safe but unspecified passing distance. The new law gives drivers and everyone else a “bright line” to follow and enforce.

Local bicycling enthusiasts have mixed feelings, according to the U-T San Diego.  Some hope the new law will raise awareness and cut down on bicycle-car accidents. Some are more skeptical – and believe real change will only happen when there’s an improved bicycling infrastructure and better enforcement of  violations . One such skeptic, John Keating, who also owns a local traffic engineering firm stated:

“Bicyclists are hopeful this will change drivers’ behavior. But that’s not realistic. I think it’s wishful thinking on the part of bicyclists.”

Nearly two dozen states have similar three-foot laws.  California is now the 23rd.

One biking observer tested the Colorado rule and told SFGate that

“Colorado has had the law and when narrow road riding there last year, I was very impressed with how well the law was observed by motorists passing me.”

Stacy Kline, spokeswoman for the bicycling club, the Orange County Wheelmen, told the OCRegister:

“The three-foot law is absolutely bringing all this positive light on the vulnerability of cyclists and their right to be there. It’s time for people to understand you need to change lanes because nobody, no matter how mad they are, wants to run over cyclists.”

Kline also says it doesn’t go far enough to protect bicyclists.

Bill Sellin, a founding member of the Bicycle Club of Irvine, stated:

“Frankly, we think the law should have said that you have to change lanes and pass them with a full lane change.”

Sellin was critical of the law in that it doesn’t allow drivers to cross a double yellow line in order to give bicyclists space, and it doesn’t set a specific speed differential that qualifies as “reasonable and prudent.”

Some Southern California police believe enforcement of the new law may be a problem. Santa Ana police Sgt. Norm Gielda said his city’s police will have extra enforcement out to encourage bicyclist and pedestrian safety, but that enforcing the three-foot law may be not as easy as was thought. He stated:

“I think it’s going to be a challenge enforcing this because of the vagueness in the law and the judgment call required on the part of the officer. If it’s going to be to that close of an outside measurement, it’s going to be a tough call.”

Huntington Beach police Sgt. David Dereszynski dittoed what the other officer stated, but added that his officers will only give out citations as warnings and will explain the law. He added:

“We want to educate the public first and give people an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the law before we start (writing tickets). 

“Nothing absolves the bicyclist from following the rules of the road as well, but if everybody does their part they can get where they’re going safely.”

News sources: U-T San Diego,   Ocean County Register, SFGate

Geoff Page September 16, 2014 at 1:34 pm

So, this means that folks in OB on Voltaire will have to follow any bicycle without passing because it has a double yellow line and there is no way to give three feet without crossing it. Perhaps there should also be some restrictions on bicyclists as well then, such as not allowing travel on roads with a double yellow line line that do not allow cars enough room to pass with a three foot buffer. I’ve yet to see any restrictions on bike travel anywhere.

I lived in Manhattan Beach for two years and was constantly amazed that cyclists insisted on riding on the narrow. two-lane coast road, which was dangerous, when there was a wide, beautiful, bicycles-only concrete path not 100 yards to the west. That was a place where cyclists should have been banned because there was an excellent alternative. Then, when the City tore up a 200 foot section of the bike path to replace it, they dedicated one of the two southbound lanes to cyclists when there was also a perfectly good access road between the coast road and the bike path.

If progress is going to made in this area, cyclists are going to have to accept some restrictions on travel.

South Park September 16, 2014 at 8:10 pm

I wish that this would make the road safer for everyone. But it won’t, and this is an absurd, absurd law.
As was stated by Sgt. David Dereszynski, “Nothing absolves the bicyclist from following the rules of the road as well, …”

I never, repeat, NEVER, go out in the car without watching bicyclists breaking traffic laws (e.g., running red lights). Every damn day, everywhere. Reckless, in-your-face biking is the norm in South Park, North Park, and Downtown.

Sometimes bike riders pass my car, much closer than 3 feet away. Or they drive right in the middle of a lane, making it impossible to pass them safely. Good luck, everyone.

Bill Ray September 16, 2014 at 10:57 pm

I think it’s a waste of time. Anyone in a motor vehicle SHOULD already have the sense to give a cyclist wide berth. And cyclists should yield to cars when they can and be cognizant as they should be. Regardless, if you get in an accident and “it’s the other guy’s fault” guess who stands a greater chance of getting seriously hurt… “But you won”, right?

All in the space of two minutes this happened to me the other night just after dark:

A guy riding eastbound on the westbound side of Santa Monica at Cable, after dark with no light nearly sideswiped me as I was turning out of the Auto Zone onto EB Santa Monica. Completely out of sight until there he was and there I was. Nothing bad, just a “near miss”.

Then he proceeded to ride up SM ave. against traffic with no light on his bike… not to mention Santa Monica Ave. has angled in parking so the rears of cars are not a consistent length and he almost got hit twice.

So I was gonna say something to the guy but opted to just keep my mouth shut because I really didn’t want to get into a pissing match with someone who looked like they’d had the first half of a six pack…

…then at the light on SM / SSC someone was making a quick left turn onto eastbound Santa Monica from southbound Sunset Cliffs and HE nearly bought it against the grill of the Mercedes; did the whole skid to the stop” thing (fixie w/ no brakes, WTG Darwin). His bike wasn’t lit up either.

So maybe there should be more enforcement of the laws that do exist such as lights at night, flow of traffic, stop at red lights, yield to pedestrians, sidewalks, etc. “Oh but you’re advocating picking on cyclists”… No, just wondering if any sort of common sense could be employed because most of the time, the people involved are adults and ought to maybe think about their own safety when putting oneself out on a thin aluminum frame mounted on two wheels into the paths of multi-ton vehicles. Is that too much to ask for?

And another thing since I’m ranting, this riding on the sidewalk shit. Let the 8 year olds ride on the sidewalk. If you’re a grown-ass adult then hows about riding on the street now that this “golden can opener” law is in effect?

I’m all for bicyclists, my brother is one and a bunch of my friends too. But I’m also a big fan of sanity and consideration.

It’s both bad drivers and bad bicyclists who ensure that we just can’t have nice things.

R September 16, 2014 at 10:59 pm

This is a huge step forward in terms creating a public streets system that is safe for all people, not just one group. The 3 Feet For Safety Act is long overdue.

The two comments above are absurd.

Geoff writes: “I’ve yet to see any restrictions on bike travel anywhere.”

Have you heard of the freeway system, one of the most subsidized systems in the nation, built almost exclusively for motor vehicles and to the detriment of all others modes?

SP: I’ve never left my house without seeing a motorist violate laws. Can you think of a single group in society that violates laws with greater frequency than motorists?

The threat to society is tremendous and the list is exhaustive and sadly normalized: Speeding in school zones, speeding in neighborhoods, speeding on freeways, speeding virtually everywhere, failing to yield right of way to pedestrians at legal intersections, failing to signal, texting while driving, distracted driving, and the less common drunk driving … all while operating 3,000lbs + of metal on public roadways.

There is no question about who poses the greatest risk to society.

Bicycling is a simple solution to the world’s most complex problems. Thank you to all the brave souls who ride bikes in this auto-centric and auto-normative society. This law is for you.

Geoff Page September 17, 2014 at 9:21 am


The freeway system? This law applies to surface streets, what does the freeway system have to do with this discussion?

This post is a perfect example of why there is a clash between the cycling community and people who drive cars. Any criticism of anything that favors cyclists is seen as evil, kind of like during the GW Bush administration when any criticism of the Iraq War, which proved to be idiocy, was deemed unpatriotic. For some reason, cycling is supposed to be sacrosanct, holy even. I don’t agree, cyclists need to be reasonable and accept some surface street restrictions.

Sp may have been on a rant but what he has experienced, we all have experienced. If you are not admitting that, you are not being realistic.

South Park September 17, 2014 at 10:12 am

Well said!

South Park September 17, 2014 at 10:16 am

R, R U kidding? Your empty retort is a non sequitur. Sorry for you. But pls stay 3 ft away from my car AND my bike. And me. And my house. Thank you.

Debbie September 17, 2014 at 9:49 am

In case you want to chime in………bicycles are a topic here


A workshop to discuss the community’s vision for Nimitz Boulevard will be held Wednesday, Sept. 17 from 7 to

8:30 p.m. at Point Loma Presbyterian Church Family Life Center, 2129 Chatsworth Blvd.

The workshop is being hosted by the Point Loma Association (PLA), which recently completed a median-enhancement project at West Point Loma Avenue and Nimitz Boulevard.

The PLA is now seeking support, input and funding for further improvements along the Nimitz corridor.

Toward that end, a Nimitz Visioning Task Force comprising Peninsula leaders and recent and past city planners has been formed.

Cecilia Carrick, past PLA chairwoman, talked about the group’s expectations for the workshop.

“We want the whole community to come in and give us input on what their vision is for Nimitz Boulevard,” she said. “Do they want more or fewer bike lanes? More landscaping? Road improvements? Public art? We’d love to hear from the community and also share what our mission is.”

The Nimitz Task Force includes: Ron Brooks, PLA Beautification Committee chairman; Carrick; Coleen Clementson, a planner with the San Diego Association of Governments; Ned Daugherty, landscape architect; Karen Davis, PLA master gardener; Kerri DeRosier, PLA newsletter editor; Dan Dennison, PLA board member; Jim Hare, former San Diego city planner; architect Lee Hope; PLA chairman Robert Jackson; architect Dick Lareau; former San Diego planning director Betsy McCullough; and former San Diego City Councilman Byron Wear.

For more information, email rtrippj@aol.com.

Frank Gormlie September 17, 2014 at 10:48 am

Thanks Debbie – we posted the info as an article.

Debra September 17, 2014 at 11:51 am

Speaking of bicyclists and Nimitz and freeways, I can’t think of a more dangerous place to ride a bike than Nimitz over by the 8 East freeway entrance, yet I see people do it all the time. THAT should be against the law. It’s difficult enough trying to maneuver a car over there, what with so many confused motorists, without having to worry about bicyclists too.

Bill Ray September 17, 2014 at 11:54 am

Add texting / distracted drivers to that mix too.

Geoff Page September 17, 2014 at 12:09 pm

Yes, another excellent example, I agree.

Frank Gormlie September 17, 2014 at 12:42 pm

Debra – 2 people have been killed at that site in the last 2 years. “Hit and Run Tragedy Outside Ocean Beach 2nd Fatality in 2 Years Next to Freeway” – see http://obrag.org/?p=84740

unWashedwallMaRT thong September 17, 2014 at 1:20 pm

How should this dichotomy be split: scofflaw vehicle drivers or scofflaw bicycle riders?
Not much thought going into many of these comments. Look at a city like Copenhagen (Do your own research.) San Diego has the weather for year-round cycling, but, if I recall correctly, San Diego didn’t make it to the top ten or twenty in a Bicycle magazine poll of bicycle-friendly cities.
I’m pushing sixty, & I’ve been riding bicycles on the road since I was a kid, & now I have a big chip on my shoulder because of all the soft drinks tossed on me, the articles thrown at me, the people screaming at me, drivers making right turns right in front of me, drivers opening car doors in front of me, truckers running me into a dirt shoulder, drivers blaring their horns, texting drivers weaving into my lane, drunks
strafing me; the list goes on.
When behind the wheel of a vehicle, I’m the one w/ the lethal weapon, not a cyclist. You can piss & moan all you want about cyclists, but we’re here to stay, we’re here to multiply, especially because energy costs will increase. I’ll ask some of you to cut cyclists a break because in any collision, the cyclist will lose. And I’ll warn the rest of you; I’m a pacifist & I’ll kick anyone’s ass who tries to tell me differently. Remember, there’s a “fist” in pacifist. If you exit your car to confront me for some infraction, be prepared to receive more than “Thank you for not killing me w/ your vehicle.”

SaneVoice September 18, 2014 at 1:36 pm

Lighten up, Francis. You only prove Geoff’s point earlier. You cyclists think you own the road and the sidewalk. I’ve been almost run over on the sidewalk numerous times and had to deal with cyclists making a 90-degree left turn less than 3 feet in front of my 2,000 lb car. Evidently when you place your keister on that conveyance of a child, your mind reverts to childish ignorance and you forgot the laws of physics are not in your favor.

unwashedWallmART thonG September 18, 2014 at 4:51 pm


Frank Gormlie September 18, 2014 at 3:05 pm

Here’s from the SD Bicycle Coalition: The “Three-Feet-for-Safety Act” legally mandates that California motorists give bicyclists at least three feet of space when passing them on the road and also provides a way for law enforcement to enforce safe passing. The San Diego County Bicycle Coalition, the Automobile Club of Southern California, California Highway Patrol-Border Division and San Diego Police Dept. will launch locally the “I GIVE 3 FT” safety awareness campaign on Tuesday, Sept. 16, the day the law goes into effect. The traffic safety groups are urging motorists to give bicyclists at least 3 feet clearance when passing. Read more…

The San Diego County Bicycle Coalition was proud to play a role in getting this law passed by supporting the “Three-Feet-for-Safety-Act” in conjunction with the California Bicycle Coalition, who led the state-wide efforts to get it passed.

View the new California Vehicle Code Section 21760.

Now that we have this important safety measure as law, the Bike Coalition will continue to work with local law enforcement to help educate the public about the new law and its importance to all of us who share the road.

Geoff Page September 18, 2014 at 4:39 pm

The practicalities of enforcing this law are daunting. Motorists will want to swing way wide of a bike just to be sure they have the three feet, judging three feet from the right side of your car to the bike will be very difficult for most people. And, three feet from where, will that be wherever the cyclist happens to be? This law doesn’t describe any responsibilities of cyclists. I’ve seen many cyclists who prefer to ride outside the bike lane because they think the bike lane at the edge of the road is too dirty. What happens then? How will law enforcement judge this distance?

editordude September 18, 2014 at 5:39 pm

We’re ending comments, as some became violate of our sandbox rules. It’s clear that motorists and bicyclists have some distance to travel before we all can settle down into a consensus on the “new” rules of the road.

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