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California 3ft passing rule becomes law next week - with fines for violators

It's more about education than enforcement though, says politician...

A law requiring drivers to stay at least three feet away from bicycles when overtaking is to be passed this week in California.

The law is designed to take the guesswork out of what a ‘safe’ passing distance is - but politicians say it’s more about creating a visual image for drivers of how far away they should be, than being something police are able to enforce.

“The current law states you need to pass a cyclist by a ‘safe distance.’ A lot of people say that’s arbitrary,” Assemblyman Steven Bradford, who authored the law, told 89.3 KPCC.

“Well now we’ve stated the safe distance is at least three feet.”

“Law enforcement won’t have a ruler or yard stick out to measure that,” he added.

153 cyclists were killed in car accidents in the state in 2012, according to figures in California Highway Patrol reports.

The Auto Club of Southern California is participating in a three-feet safety awareness campaign.

“Everybody has to think in their own mind what three feet means and keep that in mind when you see a bicyclist and get ready to pass them,” said Marianne Kim, transportation policy specialist with the Auto Club.

The law has long been debated in the state, with earlier versions being vetoed by opposing politicians in 2011 and 2012. The new bill, which has been simplified from earlier incarnations, was sponsored by the city of Los Angeles, which is known for its car-centricity. 

A growing activist base has supported the bill, which was deemed necessary despite a 2010 launched a “Give Me 3″ graphic campaign encouraging drivers to create a safe distance between vehicles and cyclists.

Under the law, if traffic or roadway conditions prevent motorists from giving cyclists 3 feet of clearance, drivers must “slow to a speed that is reasonable and prudent” and only pass when the cyclist will not be endangered.

Fines run to $35 for violations, but this rises to $154 with additional fees. Drivers who collide with cyclists and injure them while violating the law will be subject to a $220 fine.

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