California Governor signs 3 foot passing bill (for real this time)

New and improved news, this time with actual FACT CHECKING!

Santa Cruz Wildcat race

Legislative update from the office of California Governor Jerry Brown:

9-23-2013 SACRAMENTO – Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. today announced that he has signed the following bills:


  • AB 1371 by Assemblymember Steven C. Bradford (D-Gardena) – Vehicles: bicycles: passing distance

Read the press release issued earlier today here.

AB 1371 is Steven Bradford’s “Three Feet for Safety Act” that mandates (sorta kinda) a minimum three feet of clearance when a motor vehicle passes a cyclist. And because people keep asking about this, the law specifies “3 feet between any part of the motor vehicle and any part of the bicycle or its operator.

“I sincerely thank the Governor for signing this commonsense measure to protect cyclists on our roads,” Bradford said. “When cars and bikes collide, it often turns to tragedy. This bill is a great reminder that we all have to work together to keep our roads safe for all users.”

Bradford’s original bill was a work of genius; subsequent amendments in committee of both chambers of the California legislature weakens the law, mostly to incorporate compromises that Brown deemed essential to guarantee his signature.

The most important compromise is the so-called “Part D exception,” which says:

If the driver of a motor vehicle is unable to [pass more than three feet away from the cyclist] 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.

Still, cyclist and cycling advocate organizations statewide supported AB 1371 as a symbolic measure that recognizes the importance of taking increased care while driving around cyclists.

The law will take effect September 16, 2014. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 22 states currently have a minimum passing distance law on the books.


  1. For 40 plus years I have needed this law, some of my died friends needed it to,,,
    Going forward this decade I predict a softening of the interactions of cars and bikes by this law, and maybe half as many rear end crashes,,,, I’m feeling safer already!

  2. It’s a good thing. But I wish to share my experience. It seems that 99% of motorists pass with seven to ten feet of clearance. Three feet is a lot closer than the average driver will come to a bicycle.
    “physical constraints analysis suggests a minimum lane width of 11 feet for the inside lane for four-lane, two-way roadways (both curbed and uncurbed).

    B -1. Pavement Width – Curb and Gutter
    Increased minimum width for roads carrying 2000-4000 vpd from 38′ to 40′ based on VDOT road design manual and AASHTO. Decreased minimum width for roads carrying less than 400 VPD based on AASHTO’S guidelines for very low volume roads.
    Suggests 22-24′ pavement for lower volume roads and 24 – 26′ for most local streets. Roads carrying more than 1500 vpd are considered collectors and should have 36′ of pavement
    B -2. Pavement Width – Shoulder & Ditch
    Increased minimum width for roads carrying 2000-4000 vpd from 22′ to 24′ based on VDOT road design manual and AASHTO. Decreased minimum width for roads carrying 401 – 1500 from 22′ to 20′ based on VDOT road design manual and AASHTO.Decreased minimum width for roads carrying less than 400 VPD based on AASHTO’S guidelines for very low volume roads.
    Suggests 8′ shoulders regardless of pavement width. Very general comments discouraging shoudler and ditch sections because of high cost of properly maintaining shoulders.

    I’m doing a search or two, using the search term “minimum roadway width”…hmm, very interesting. I don’t see “less than two inches” mentioned anywhere…

  3. It’s hard to optimistic because even if this bill survives the next veto this law wouldn’t be in effect till next September.

  4. Now…if cyclists will reciprocate and allow the responsibile motor vehicle traffic to pass slower moving bikes safely. Masses of bikes travelling half the speed limit but taking most of the roadway encourages unsafe passing and road rage incidents. Respect is effective when mutually applied.

  5. Also a bike rider, if there’s room for a vehicle to pass safely in the same lane, the cyclists should ride single file. If there’s not, then the driver needs to move into the left or oncoming lane to pass. In a narrow lane they have full legal right to take up the right lane.

  6. @Also a bike rider: “Respect” is subjective. Many drivers regularly perform hazardous/illegal maneuvers around people on bikes that they likely feel are not dangerous to or disrespectful of more vulnerable road users. Similarly, many bicyclists ride in such a way as to protect their own safety which may be misconstrued by drivers as being “selfish” or “rude”.

    This is why it is very important that our laws not also be subjective, and have set standards (like a 3-foot minimum pass) to inform people about what constitutes acceptable behavior and hold them accountable when they fail to comply. I rarely observe groups of cyclists riding in such a way that slows drivers for more than a couple seconds, but beyond that we do already have laws which make holding up traffic unnecessarily illegal, and which are specifically enforced against cyclists in some areas (regardless of the actual negative impact on public safety).

    Let’s worry a bit less about placating drivers with road rage tendencies, and concentrate more on ensuring that our laws adequately protect public safety while being enforced to also accomplish the largest impact on safety.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.