Under current California law (Vehicle Code section 21750), a motorist “…overtaking another vehicle or a bicycle proceeding in the same direction shall pass to the left at a safe distance without interfering with the safe operation of the overtaken vehicle or bicycle… Of course, “safe distance” is not defined. This leaves it up to a police officer. We know that’s not going to work well, because motorists routinely speed past each other with inches to spare and nothing bad happens. No harm, no foul, right? So the law is ignored for motorists passing motorists.
And because it is ignored for motorists passing motorists, police officers just don’t think about enforcing it against motorists passing too close to cyclists.
But a car passing a bicycle closely is not the same as a car passing a car. A car passing too closely can push a small cyclist over just by the wind a car makes…and that is the least of the problem. That is why 19 other states over the last several decades have passed laws requiring a minimum 3-foot distance to pass a cyclist. Even nine cities in Texas have passed such laws.
Sounds reasonable, and Senate Bill 910 – which would have made “3 feet to pass and no more than 15 MPH over the speed of the cyclist” the law in California – recently passed both houses of the California legislature with overwhelming approval. Here is a link to a comparison of the current law and what would have been the law had our Governor signed SB 910.
Unfortunately, Governor Jerry Brown just yesterday vetoed SB 910 on the advice of none other than AAA and the California Highway Patrol. They told the Governor that (even though this has not happened in the other 19 states with similar laws), literally, motorists would have rear-end collisions trying to comply with the law…
The fact is, motorists in 19 other states adapted to the law.
AAA is, of course, a motorist’s lobby. Their concern would be their insured drivers, not the safety of cyclists those drivers imperil. They aren’t trying to sell insurance and roadside assistance packages to cyclists after all.
But a lot of motorists are also cyclists, and it is hard to imagine any cyclist will continue to purchase insurance from AAA after this.
I don’t know what to think about the CHP. Their brethren in 19 other states did not present data supporting the CHP‘s argument. Nobody did. Their concern was made up out of whole cloth, apparently. I suspect they simply don’t want a tangible measurement they would be obliged to enforce.
Not with video cameras recording the unsafe passes…