The fifth time was the charm.
Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday signed into law the “three-foot rule,” requiring cars to keep at least 36 inches from cyclists when passing, or to slow to a safe speed if they for some reason are prevented from keeping their distance.
The action marks success for cycling advocates following five failed attempts to bring California in line with the approximately two-dozen states that already have three-foot rules on their books or as guidelines in their driver handbooks. As noted here last week, California bills in 2006 and 2008 got stuck in legislative committee, and Brown vetoed iterations of the law in 2011 and 2012, citing safety and liability concerns.
“Three feet is still really close,” Bradford Chief of Staff Opio Dupree noted last week, before it was clear whether the governor would sign the bill. “You can almost reach out of your car and touch someone.”
Dupree noted that Bradford specifically wrote the bill with Brown’s veto last year in mind. The governor was concerned that the earlier version of the bill allowed cars to move to the left, across the double-yellow line, to avoid getting too close to a bike when passing. That could have caused the state to become liable in the event of a collision between the passing car and an oncoming vehicle on the other side of the road.
The version that Brown signed does not permit drivers to cross the line. It instead requires them to slow to a safe and reasonable speed when passing if they can’t get three feet away.
Getting the law on the books has been a top priority for cycling advocates in California. Cycling has long been part of the civic culture in most large cities here, but in numbers that left pro-bike policy a poor cousin when compared with car-oriented laws and regulations -- until the last five or six years. The state is beginning to catch up with the rebirth of cycling around the nation.
Before last year’s veto, Times editorial writer Dan Turner wrote that the three-foot rule was better than nothing but still not enough.