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California Senate OKs buffer for cars passing cyclists

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California motorists would have to provide three feet of space between their vehicles and bicycles they pass on the road under legislation approved Friday by the state Senate.

Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) said his measure is needed because the current law, requiring only that motorists pass at a "safe distance," has not adequately protected bicyclists. "This definition is vague and leaves everyone vulnerable," Lowenthal told his colleagues. "It’s time that California protect both its bicyclists and its motorists."

Collisions in which cars pass from behind are responsible for about 40% of bicycle deaths involving motor vehicles, he said. Twenty other states have a rule of at least three feet.

Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a similar bill last year because of concern that it also required motorists to slow to 15 mph, which law enforcement felt could cause safety and traffic problems. The new bill tries to address the governor’s concern by requiring motorists to slow to a reasonable speed.

SB 1464 would allow motorists to cross a solid yellow line between traffic if it is safe to do so and necessary to give bicyclists a three-foot buffer. Drivers who pass too close would face an infraction with a $35 fine. The cost would be $233 after all court fees and surcharges are added in.

The fine would be $220 ($959 with court fees) if a collision results in bodily injury to the cyclist. The measure passed 27-6, with some Republicans in opposition, and next goes to the Assembly for consideration.

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--Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento

Photo: A bicyclist rides alongside cars in downtown L.A. last year the day after a 63-year-old bicyclist was struck and killed by a car on a downtown street. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

 
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