In 2019, 846 bike riders were killed and another 49,000 were injured in motor vehicle traffic crashes. To make the roads safer for cyclists, states and cities around the country have begun enacting laws that require a "buffer zone" between cars and bicycles. These driving safety laws are intended to decrease bicycle injuries and deaths from being hit by automobile drivers. Read on to learn more about bicycle buffer zone laws, how they work, and the penalties that come with a violation.
What is a bicycle buffer zone?
Bicycle buffer zones are the buffered space around the bike lane that increase the space between bikes and cars or parked cars. These are usually marked with painted strips and sometimes with images of bicycles on the pavement to denote the adjacent bike lane.
According to the U.S. Transportation Research Board, buffered bike lanes have advantages over just a wider bike lane. Buffer zones make cyclists more comfortable because they aren't directly next to the traffic. When these zones are used with street parking spots, bikes can also safely avoid the "door zone" of drivers opening the doors of their parked cars and accidentally injuring bike riders. This makes commuting by bike safer and more enticing to a wider range of cyclists.
How do you use bike buffer zones?
Drivers need to drive in the traffic lane and avoid driving in the buffer zone. They also need to be cautious of bikes when pulling in and out of parking near buffer zone areas. Cyclists need to be courteous and stay in the designated bike lane, not in the buffer zone. They also must look for drivers and passengers exiting parked cars to help prevent door opening injuries. For more safe riding tips, see this National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) fact sheet.
Typical bicycle buffer zone laws
In 1973, Wisconsin became the first state to pass a bicycle buffer zone safe passing law. Approximately 35 states and D.C. currently have similar safe passing laws, and more are following suit. Most commonly, states require a three-foot distance between cars and bikes, although some states have more generic safe passing laws.
As an example of a bicycle buffer zone law, in September 2013, California's Governor Brown signed into law Assembly Bill 1371, the "Three Feet for Safety Act." This law requires drivers passing other cars or bikes to pass with at least three feet between their vehicles and the cycle or vehicle being passed. If a driver violates the three-foot buffer zone, they can be fined from $35 to up to $100 for a first ticket and $250 for any subsequent tickets or if a collision occurs that harms the bike rider.
Are you an injured cyclist? Get a Legal Case Review
Bicycle buffer zones may help reduce incidents of cyclists being hit by vehicles, but they don't eliminate such crashes. Whether your state has a law mandating a buffer zone or not, if you've been injured in a bicycle accident you should consult an experienced attorney to protect your legal rights and learn more about any claims you may have.