Sunday, September 21, 2014

Does the Three Foot Safety Act Make Roadways Safer for Bicycle Riders?

As most of my readers know, I am an avid bicyclist, and try and keep my readers up on the latest news and laws. My friends at the California Bicycle Coalition seem to have hit a home run for a lot us, especially the ones riding around Admiralty Way in Marina del Rey, California. I credit these guys with shedding a spotlite on a real problem for us riders.

Passenger cars in particular, either ignore us, or go out of their way to crowd our cushion of space as we traverse the mean streets of L.A., in particular. The result of bicycle and vehicle collisions is never good with tons of metal colliding with the bike frame and unprotected rider can mean serious harm or fatality. The data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for 2012 shows nationwide there were 49,000 bicyclists injured and 726 riders who died in this type of incident (More.)

Enter the Three Feet Safety Act

The Three Feet Safety Act is legislation that was written by Democratic State Assembly Member Steven Bradford, who stated he has been hit three times by motorists who did not stop after the mishaps (More.) This has happened to me me on numerous occasions in the Venice Beach area, so I get it. For me it was sideswipes, where drivers simply pushed me into the curb, throwing me off my bike. Bradford is hoping the bill will make a difference for bicyclists, since it has a three foot rule, in which if it is not safe to pass a cyclist without having a three foot distance from the rider, then the driver must slow to a reasonable speed until a time when they can pass the rider safely. This kind of reminds me of the school bus stop rule, where drivers must yield to stopped buses.

In any event, most bicyclists appear to be in favor of the new law, while many drivers claim that it is not possible to adhere to the new legislation especially on congested streets. Drivers are also concerned about the ticket they could incur of $35 for drivers who break the established law and a fine of $225 for a driver who hits a bicyclist. Obviously, this could even lead to more serious charges for repeat offenders.

In order to test the bill regulations a local ABC new station used a car with cameras and a yardstick to drive around San Francisco streets finding it was not easy to keep a three food distance while still remaining in the traffic lane (Check it out.) According to this test a vehicle would be required to remain behind the bicycle for blocks, which could lead to traffic congestion. They also found it difficult to determine the distance without measurements.  At the end of the day, we also see stories about bicyclists ignoring traffic regulations altogether. Many drivers fear that this rule will simply embolden bad riders, and lead to more injuries and deaths on the road such as what just happened in New York (Read More.)

San Francisco Police Commander Mikhail Ali stated the law is not written only for the San Francisco area, but for the entire state. He said San Francisco streets are narrow compared at 8 feet, while other roadways in the state average 10 feet. Ali stated bicyclists and cars are too close in general.

California Mandates Three Foot Traffic Rule

The state of California with this legislation is joining twenty-two other states in the distance motorists must keep between their vehicle and bicyclists to ensure safety. Twenty-one states have a three foot law, while Pennsylvania is the only state requiring four feet. Florida between 2006 and 2010 has issued 337 tickets to drivers violating their three foot bicycle rule out of the 14 million registered drivers in the state.

In San Francisco the police department plans to increase the number of police officers on the street who will determine when drivers should be ticked for violation of the law.  Ali said if harm is caused to “another” due to a collision the at-fault party will receive a citation. Though other police officers have commented off the record they will not enforce the three foot law unless there has been a collision.  For cash stricken cities, this will certainly be a money maker.

Executive Director Dave Snyder of the California Bicycle Coalition said awareness of the legislation is even more important than enforcing the regulation. The coalition was instrumental in assisting in the passing of the law, though they agree enforcement of it in San Francisco will be difficult. Bradford said the buffer of three feet is a way to educate drivers to share the road with bicyclists.

Only time will tell if this was the right solution to making the roadways safer for riders. I for one, would rather break the law and ride on a sidewalk, than trust any driver, law or not. But I do applaud the efforts and effect this will have on bringing awareness when it comes to looking out for bicycle riders on the mean streets of California.


   

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