Drivers in California Now Required to Give Three Feet When Passing Bicyclists

By lfsuser on September 15, 2014

On September 16, 2014, AB 1371, also known as the Three Feet for Safety Act, went into effect. Signed last year by Governor Jerry Brown, AB 1371 adds Section 21760 to the California Vehicle Code.

Vehicle Code section 21760 provides, in part:

(c) A driver of a motor vehicle shall not overtake or pass a bicycle proceeding in the same direction on a highway at a distance of less than three feet between any part of the motor vehicle and any part of the bicycle or its operator. (emphasis added)

(d) If the driver of a motor vehicle is unable to comply with subdivision (c), due to traffic or roadway conditions, the driver shall slow to a speed that is reasonable and prudent, and may pass only when doing so would not endanger the safety of the operator of the bicycle, taking into account the size and speed of the motor vehicle and bicycle, traffic conditions, weather, visibility, and surface and width of the highway.

A violation of Vehicle Code section 21760 may result in a fine of $35.00. Moreover, if a collision occurs between a motor vehicle and a bicycle which causes bodily injury to the operator of the bicycle and the driver is found to be in violation of Vehicle Code section 21760, the driver will be fined $220.00.

The Three Feet for Safety Act has significant implications for drivers in the State of California. Primarily, it establishes a clear standard of care for drivers when passing bicyclists. If able to, drivers must pass bicyclists with three feet of clearance. If such a clearance is not available given traffic or roadway conditions, the driver must slow down and pass only when it would not endanger the safety of the bicyclist. Notably, this section does not provide that a driver may cross double lines in order to pass a bicyclist. In fact, crossing double lines is prohibited under California law except for under certain circumstances. (Cal. Veh. Code § 21460.)

Most significantly for drivers, should a collision resulting in bodily injury occur between a passing driver and a bicyclist and the driver be found in violation of this Vehicle Code section, not only is the driver subject to the aforementioned monetary fine, the driver can be found negligent per se. Negligence Per Se is a legal doctrine that establishes a presumption of negligence for a violation of a statute, ordinance, or regulation. In California, negligence per se is established when (1) an individual violates a statute, ordinance, or regulation of a public entity, (2) the violation proximately causes death or injury to person or property, (3) the death or injury resulted from an occurrence of the nature which the statute, ordinance, or regulation was designed to prevent, and (4) the person suffering the death or injury was one of the class of persons for whose protection the statute, ordinance, or regulation was adopted. (Cal. Evid. Code § 669.) Here, should a lawsuit arise because of a collision between a passing driver and a bicyclist, the driver would be presumed negligent if he or she is found to have violated Vehicle Code section 21760.

Any driver in the State of California – whether commercial or non-commercial – should be aware of this new law, which establishes a clear standard of care when passing bicyclists. Drivers should also understand the legal implications violations of this law will have on the defense of drivers involved in motor vehicle/bicycle collisions.

To read the full text of the AB 1371, please click here.

This document is intended to provide you with general information about legal developments. The contents of this document are not intended to provide specific legal advice. If you have questions about the contents of this alert, please contact Kimberly Chin at 415-697-3455 or at kchin@aghwlaw.com. This communication may be considered advertising in some jurisdictions.