New California Law Reduces Bicycle Injury Accidents

Everyday I see articles in the newspapers about bicyclists being injured in collisions with autos. Recently, Governor Brown signed a bill which should help reduce the number of these accidents.

The new law (AB 1371), known as “Three Feet for Safety”, goes into effect on September 14, 2014. The new California law requires drivers of automobiles to give bicyclists at least a three foot cushion when passing a bike from behind. Previously, the law simply required that motorists pass at a safe distance without specifying what that distance was.

There is an exception to the law which states that if the driver is unable to comply with the law due to traffic or roadway conditions, he shall slow to a reasonable speed and may only pass the bicyclist when doing so would not endanger the bike rider.

As an Alameda personal injury lawyer, and as a bicyclist myself, I have seen many instances where cars passing too closely cause a serious risk to the bike rider. If the car or truck passes too close, the side view mirror can clip the bicyclist causing severe injuries. Or worse yet, when passing too close, even a slight movement by the cyclist can cause a collision which can result in catastrophic injuries or even death. A study done by the Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed that in the 1990’s 24% of bicycle versus auto accidents involved cars passing bikes. I believe that this new law should significantly help reduce the number of these serious accidents.

The same study showed that the most frequent type of automobile/ bicycle accident involves the motorist turning into the bike’s path. This usually occurs when the driver of the car is making a left turn in front of the cyclist. Often, the driver is distracted looked for other cars that may be entering the intersection, but does not see the bicyclist approaching him. Therefore, a cyclist should always be alert when entering intersections to look for left turning vehicles in front of him.

Bicyclists should do their part to promote safety as well. The California Department of Motor Vehicles has a helpful site which provides some good safety tips for drivers and cyclists alike. They describe the rules that bikers must follows:

  1. Always ride with traffic;
  2. Bicyclists are subject to the same laws as cars, so stop for all traffic lights, and obey all traffic signs;
  3. When there is a bike lane, cyclists must use it if moving slower than normal traffic;
  4. Use proper hand signals when turning;
  5. Before leaving a lane, use a hand signal;
  6. Bikes are not allowed on most freeways;
  7. Bikes must be properly equipped;
  8. Headphones cannot be worn over both earns while riding a bike.

Bicycle riding is a wonderful form of recreation. I’ve ridden through the Wine Country, from Red Bluff to Lake Almanor, from California to Oregon, not to mention, my frequent trips around Alameda itself. During those trips, I have experienced my share of vehicles passing too closely. As a cyclist and as an injury attorney, I am gratified to see that Governor Brown has signed the “Three Feet for Safety” bill into law.

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