Effect of New Bike Law Debated

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Bicycle law

Malibu motorists will have another traffic law to obey come next fall as Gov. Jerry Brown recently approved a new law requiring drivers to give bicyclists three feet of clearance when passing from behind.

Current law states that drivers who pass bikers must do so while keeping a “safe distance,” but the new law that will go into effect Sept. 14, 2014, requires drivers to keep vehicles three feet away. If traffic or roadway conditions do not allow for three feet of clearance, drivers must “slow to a speed that is reasonable and prudent” and only pass when not endangering a cyclist.

Local public safety officials reacted to the law as a good step, although one that many people already follow.

“It’s a good thing and hopefully the public will be on board to share the road,” said Sgt. Phil Brooks of the Malibu / Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station.

Brooks added that the law might be difficult to enforce.

“We won’t be out there with a yard stick,” Brooks said. “It will be difficult to enforce unless the officer’s right there.”

Leland Tang, the Public Information Officer for the California Highway Patrol, said between now and net September the DMV will have to revise the motorist handbook and the CHP bicycle safety literature has to be changed.

The new legislation states that drivers found guilty of violating the law will pay a $35 fine. If a collision between a bicyclist and motorist occurs and the driver is found to have broken the law, then a $220 fine will be imposed.

“It’s a very common sense law, but now it is a citable offense,” said Tang.

According to Eric Bruins, Director of Planning and Policy for the LA Bike Coalition, the law has been a long time in the making.

The bill had been vetoed before, with portions being removed before finally getting the governor’s signature.

“We tried to give motorists a better option of crossing double yellow lines to pass cyclists, but we had to settle for three feet of passing,” Bruins said.

Bruins previously worked in Malibu and biked on Pacific Coast Highway (PCH).

“The Three Feet for Safety Act is near to my heart,” said Bruins. “Safe passing is a huge issue in Malibu and along PCH.”

While it is up to the driver to pass safely, there is often a misunderstanding that motorists have more of a right to the road than those on bikes, Bruins said.

“If there was a horse-drawn carriage or golf cart in the right lane you wouldn’t pass them unsafely; bicyclists need to be treated similarly, like any other slow moving traffic.”

Carol Randall, a member of the Malibu Public Safety Commission, said she was surprised Gov. Brown signed the bill but thought it could help deter angry motorists from buzzing bicyclists.

“I think everybody [already] tries to give as much room as possible, it’s just in the squeeze areas [of PCH] it’s difficult and what do you do?,” Randall said. “If you’ve got a car on your tail do you slam on your brakes? It’s an issue, but I’m willing to see how it works out.”

Meril May, another member of the safety commission, said PCH safety is a complex issue in Malibu and the bill would need to be evaluated over time.

“The impact of this bill is going to be retrospective,” May said. “After it’s been in effect for a while, then we’ll see what the effect is.”