Democratic state senator Alan Lowenthal of Long Beach last week introduced a bill that would mandate a three-foot passing distance for drivers when overtaking cyclists on California streets. If passed, the law would give bicycle traffic legal protection for the first time against aggressive and negligent drivers who routinely assault cyclists on California highways.
S.B. 910 seeks to define what is a “safe distance” for drivers to pass cyclists, and the bill has received early support in the form of a poster campaign in southern California. The “Give Me 3″ posters have been cropping up around bus stops in LA, and have drawn attention to a growing demand from non-profit and advocacy groups for greater focus on the issue of car-on-bike violence.
Los Angeles has hosted a number of recent high-profile events in which cyclists have peacefully demonstrated against what they consider a hostile environment for cyclists: the downtown Los Angeles area.
So-called “safe-streets” legislation has traditionally had a difficult time making passage in Sacramento, which is susceptible to lobbying from the California Highway Patrol, as well as the trucking industry. Institutional opposition to bicycle advocacy is a major problem in California, where the roads represent a final frontier bitterly fought over by conservative groups who seek to maintain a motor-only advantage, and progressive, eco-friendly proponents of zero-impact transportation solutions.
Arguments against a 3-feet passing law are weak, and include assertions that such a mandate would be difficult to enforce under current conditions. This law, however, would provide cyclists with some degree of legal standing when they felt they had been bullied off the road by inconsiderate drivers. No such law currently protects cyclists, despite the fact that 16 other states have functioning 3-feet laws.