Brown vetoes 3 foot passing law

3 foot passing law – 2012 Update: Senator Lowenthal introduced SB 1464 for 2012. The full Senate votes on 3 foot passing on Thursday, May 24, 2012.

California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed SB 910, the legislation which would mandate a minimum three foot distance for motorists passing cyclists when the speed is greater than 15 MPH.

In his veto message, Brown writes, “Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol have raised legitimate concerns about other provisions such as the 15 MPH requirement. On streets with speed limits of 35 or 40 MPH, slowing to 15 MPH to pass a bicycle could cause rear end collisions. On other roads, a bicycle may travel at or near 15 MPH creating a long line of cars behind the cyclist.”

The special irony of Brown’s confused veto message: the 15 MPH limitation was added to reduce motorist delays by allowing motorists to pass slower cyclists in heavy urban traffic.

Cycling advocacy organizations statewide and thousands of individuals — including Lance Armstrong and Chris Horner — sent letters to Governor Brown urging him to sign SB 910.

The California Bicycle Coalition notes on their Facebook page that Governor Brown joins Texas Governor Rick Perry in the two person club of governors who have vetoed minimum distance passing laws. Governors who have signed similar legislation into law include Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Jeb Bush, Tim Pawlenty and Jon Huntsman.

SB 910 author Senator Alan Lowenthal released a statement in response to the veto:

Obviously I am disappointed with the veto, but I am also a bit confused. It appears the Governor’s biggest concern with the bill revolved around the 15 MPH provision. However, that provision actually made it easier for a motorist to pass a cyclist and allowed for a much smoother flow of traffic. The Governor seems to be advocating for a strict, minimum three foot buffer in which a motorist cannot pass, under any circumstances unless that pass can be made with at least three feet between the motorist and the cyclist. I agree that that would be safer for the cyclist, but it would not, in any way address the concerns the Governor raised in the veto.


  1. Brown says that a 3 foot buffer is a needed improvement.
    Then he says…

    On streets with speed limits of 35 or 40 MPH, slowing to 15 MPH pass a bicycle could cause rear end collisions.

    This is contradictory. He says a 3 foot buffer is needed. But here he says that slowing to pass inside of 3 feet is bad. Is he saying that if the road is narrow such that 3 feet is impossible, the motorists should be able to pass inside of 3 feet (contradicting his first statement). Or is he saying that they absolutely must have 3 feet, in which case they would have to slow anyway (contradiction of his second statement).

    This statement is completely baffling. “I hate cyclists” would have been a more satisfying veto message.

  2. Let’s inject a note of reality.  While 3 feet passing laws may be popular, they’re little more than window dressing because they’re largely unenforceable even in an instance where a cyclist is hit by a passing car.  The near universal defense is the ‘sudden suicide swerve’ where a the cyclist suddenly moves laterally in the lane.  In all my reading, I’ve found just one instance of a driver being successfully convicted of violating that law.

  3. I’m ambivalent about 3 foot laws. Of much more concern to me was Governor Moonbeam’s rationale — that drivers would have to SLOW DOWN for cyclists if he signed SB910 into law. We obviously can’t have that happen; better to run us down.

  4. He helped me make up my mind on his tax increase we are voting on. I’m now voting a big NO! Thanks Jerry.

  5. The solution is to ride in the middle of the lane and take up the whole lane if there’s not enough room to share with a car.

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