Starting September 16, 2014, California motorists who drive too close to bicyclists will face a fine. The Three Feet For Safety Act1 requires a motorist to give a bicyclist at least 3 feet of cushion when passing and overtaking them on the road.
California Vehicle Code Section 21760 states:
- When passing or overtaking, the motorist “shall do so at a safe distance that does not interfere with the safe operation of the overtaken bicycle, having due regard for the size and speed of the motor vehicle and the bicycle, traffic conditions, weather, visibility, and the surface and width of the highway.”2
- 3 feet of cushion when passing or overtaking a bicyclist.3
- If 3 feet of cushion is not possible due to road or traffic conditions, then slow down and proceed as necessary to ensure safety of the bicyclist in a way that “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.”4
- If a driver violates this section, the fine is $35 but rises to $220 if a collision occurs and the bicyclist is injured5
How will this law help if you’re injured in an accident with a motor vehicle
If a motorist violates this vehicle code, and causes an accident where you are injured while riding your bike you have an additional theory of liability when pursuing a claim against the driver.
According to San Diego, California Bicycle Accident Laws, if a motorist is negligent when causing an accident, it means they did not exercise due care owed to you. California’s Evidence Rule 669 says if you can show these four things, there is a presumption the defendant was negligent per se. It will be then up to the defendant to prove they were not negligent.6 These are the four things:
- The defendant violated a statute, ordinance, or regulation of a public entity;
- The violation proximately caused death or injury to person or property;
- The death or injury resulted from an occurrence of the nature which the statute, ordinance, or regulation was designed to prevent; and
- The person suffering the death or the injury to his person or property was one of the class of persons for whose protection the statute, ordinance, or regulation was adopted.
Simply put, (1) if the defendant violated a law and (2) caused your injuries, and (3) these injuries were the ones the State were trying to prevent with the law, and (4) you are the very group of people the law was designed to protect (cyclists) then it is presumed the defendant was negligent.
California also has Civil Jury Instruction 4187 that says:
If you decide
1. That Defendant violated this law and
2. That the violation was a substantial factor in bringing about the harm,
then you must find that Defendant was negligent.
Those are the two elements. If defendant violated the law, and this very violation was a substantial factor in causing the accident, there is negligence per se, and the driver owed you compensation for the injuries they caused you.
The new act will probably influence police when investigating the scene of the accident and trying to determine fault.
The hope is this law will raise awareness
There is hope the new law will raise awareness for bike safety. Especially in San Diego where bicycling is already popular and growing more so.
“Bicyclists are hopeful this will change drivers’ behavior. But that’s not realistic,” said John Keating, an avid cyclist who owns a traffic engineering firm in San Diego. “I think it’s wishful thinking on the part of bicyclists.”8
The San Diego Association of Governments is planning to spend over $2.6 billion on bicycle and pedestrian accidents over the next 40 years. That’s only 1.2% of the SANDAG of their budget over the time period, but it’s an improvement. The hope is these projects will improve bicycle and pedestrian safety on San Diego roads.
Rising danger of bicycle vs car accidents
Across California, the number of bicycle involved collisions with motor vehicles increased from 11,683 in 2008 to 13,861 in 2012, an 18 percent jump, according to data from the California Highway Patrol. Deaths from bicycle involved accidents also increased from 131 in 2008 to 152 in 2012.
There were 7 bike fatalities in San Diego County in 2008, and 11 in 2012. This increase came while the number of bicycle accidents during that time period. With increasing motor vehicles, and increasing bicyclists, collisions, injuries, and fatalities will only increase unless safety improvements and safety awareness efforts are taken.
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