On September 16, 2014, California’s bicycle safety law goes into effect. This law requires vehicles to provide a 3 foot clearance between a bike and a car whenever both are sharing the road. Failure to provide this new mandatory distance can be a basis for a traffic ticket, or for liability if a cyclist is injured by a passing motorist, even if there is no contact between the car and bicycle. For example, if the car comes so close that the cyclist is run off the road and crashes or is otherwise hurt, the driver may be held responsible.
This new law puts the burden upon the motorist to make sure he/she can pass the bicycle with more than a 3-foot buffer before making a passing move. If the passing maneuver cannot be made with more than 3 feet, the motorist must not pass. While the intention of the law is admirable, there are other possible risks to both motorists and bikers. A driver who observes a bike and insufficient room to pass may have to unexpectedly slow down to comply with the law, but a car following too close may not recognize the danger ahead thereby causing a collision between the two cars. Another possible concern is for head on collisions with on coming cars as a driver crosses the center line to get around a bicyclist with sufficient room.
This new law also benefits bikers in proving liability for civil lawsuits. When suffering injuries caused by accidents between cars and bikes the motorist is presumptively responsible for the accident. This makes it easier to prove liability and recover damages.