California 3 foot law passes final legislative hurdle

The folks at CABO tell me that the California Assembly voted this morning to approve the amendments to AB 1371, representative Steven Bradford’s “Three Feet for Safety” bill that mandates (sort of) a minimum 3 feet of clearance when a motor vehicle passes a bicycle. 51 voted in favor of the amended bill, while 23 representatives voted “no.”

The Assembly initially passed AB 1371 last May. The Senate passed this bill on Monday, August 26. Because the Senate version included amendments, the bill returned to the Assembly for that chamber’s approval of the Senate changes.

The bill as passed includes a “get out of jail free” card that essentially neuters to force of this act. It states that a driver can pass even if three feet isn’t available.

Subdivision (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.

What are you thinking right now? Yeah, that’s what I thought, too.

Still, mainstream media coverage on this bill hasn’t mentioned this shortcoming, so maybe a few drivers will just remember the part about “three feet” and drive accordingly.

Okay, I’ll quit with the comedy routine now. Anybody who’s ticketed for violating this law can fight it and easily win with this subdivision (d) clause.

After the Labor Day holiday, AB 1371 moves on to the desk of Governor Jerry Brown, who has vetoed both previous attempts at similar 3 feet passing laws.

This subdivision (d) stinks, and I’m having a hard time getting too enthusiastic about it. Once this bill becomes law, any future chance to rectify it may prove difficult, so maybe we should wait until Brown terms out before trying again.

What do you think? Is the perfect the enemy of the good in this case?


  1. 3-foot bills are symbolic. I believe the number of tickets issued for 3-foot violations is very close to zero. Aside from (d), the bigger get-out-of-ticketing issue is the far-to-the-right law, 21202. The passing driver need only claim that the cyclist could have been further to the right (never mind any of the exceptions in 21202).

    If this one gets signed into law, we should move on to something more meaningful, like repealing 21202 and 21208. Move the exceptions to 21654. And add the word “motor” to 22400.

  2. The onus is on the accused to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that their passing of a bicycle with less than three feet gap satisfied all facets of subsection (d).
    My experiences riding my bike up and down Watt Avenue in Sacramento as a teenager indicate that the majority of drivers would have invalidated their own defense as they blew by 16 year old me while they were driving at or above the speed limit – which is clearly *not even remotely* ‘slowing to a speed that is reasonable and prudent’…the prosecution need only ask how fast the accused was going when they passed the cyclist.

  3. I’m not at a fan of this bill as amended. It went from a very smart bill addressing Gov. Brown’s irrational reasons for vetoing the two previous bills, to a very weak – and as you point out – unenforceable one.

    On the other hand, I’m still in favor of signing this one simply because it imposes a three-foot distance whether or not the bike and car are in the same lane, unlike last year’s bill. It’s worth it to me to have a bill that applies whether you’re in a traffic lane, bike lane, parking lane or hugging the curb.

    The rest – like an exemption for briefly crossing the center line when safe to pass bikes at a minimum of three feet – will have to be fixed later. Most likely when our anti-bike governor is out of office.

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