A 3 foot passing sign from Georgia, which is somehow ahead of California on this issue.

Earlier this week the California State Senate approved SB 1371, a bill that would require drivers to maintain at least three feet of space between their vehicles and a bicyclist they are passing in the same direction on the road. Twenty-one other states in the country have already passed similar laws. The California State Assembly approved the three foot passing law in late August.

The bill’s passage in both the Senate and Assembly is good news for advocates of safe bicycling across the state because it defines an easily recognizable distance between bikes and cars for both drivers and cyclists who might not otherwise be aware of how to safely share the roads. According the California Bicycle Coalition “Passing-from-behind collisions are the leading cause of bicyclist fatalities in California.”

SB 1371 acknowledges that unfavorable road conditions may make three feet unavailable to drivers, in which case vehicles would be required to slow to a reasonable speed to pass safely. But State Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, whose district includes Fullerton, doesn’t think drivers can accurately estimate a distance of three feet. In the video link below Senator Huff argues that “Estimating distance even from a static location is difficult at best, it’s impossible when you’re in motion,” as if drivers of motor vehicles would somehow be unable to reliably gauge the familiar measurement of a yard while passing a bicyclist on the road.


Click this image to hear Sen. Bob Huff explain why he does’t think drivers can judge whether or not their car is three feet away from anything else on the road (20 seconds into the video).

The purpose of the bill, of course, is to provide drivers with the understanding of a safe distance for passing a cyclist, and to cite those who neglect to allow enough room, or worse, deliberaly speed by cyclists to intimidate them.

Assemblywoman Sharon-Quirk Silva should be commended for her support of AB1371, unlike her predecessor Chris Norby, who voted against an almost identical bill in 2011.