SACRAMENTO - The state Senate approved a bill on Monday that would require drivers to stay at least three feet away from bicyclists when they are passing in the same direction, despite Gov. Jerry Brown's previous vetoes of similar legislation.
Lawmakers approved AB1371 by Assemblyman Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, on a 31-7 vote. It aims to protect bicyclists from harassment by drivers who deliberately travel close to bikes in an effort to intimidate riders.
The legislation would require a driver to pass a bicycle at a distance of at least three feet, but when drivers cannot leave that much room due to road conditions they must slow to "a reasonable and prudent speed" and pass only if doing so would not endanger the cyclist's safety. A violation would be punishable by fines starting at $35.
The bill is nearly identical to one Brown vetoed last year, citing concerns about the possibility of increased crashes if drivers cross the center line or slow down too much to pass cyclists. He said then that the state could be held liable for those crashes if drivers are legally allowed to cross a double-yellow line to make room for a cyclist. Bradford's bill added new language to address those concerns.
Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, who carried the bill in the Senate, said California is one of 32 states that have so-called safe distance laws. However, California law does not currently specify a safe distance.
He said the law is needed until California has more infrastructure making it safer for bicyclists and pedestrians.
Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, said it is difficult to estimate a three-foot distance while driving and noted that sometimes cyclists must swerve into vehicle traffic to avoid road hazards.
"It's just impossible to gauge what three feet is and so I don't think it really accomplishes what you want," Huff said. He said the state should instead focus on educating people about sharing the road with non-motorized vehicles when they renew their driver's licenses.
"To create outlaws of everybody because you can't judge the distance is nuts," he said.
AB1371 returns to the state Assembly for a final vote.