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Bicyclists Get 3-Foot 'Buffer' Under New Law

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on October 05, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A new California law will require drivers to keep a bicycle buffer zone of at least 3 feet when passing bicyclists.

The law, which aims to protect cyclists from aggressive drivers, will go into effect September 16, 2014.

Until now, California had a less specific standard that required drivers to keep a "safe distance" from bicyclists.

Bike Buffer Laws

The bill, AB1371 , was proposed by Assemblyman Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), reports the Associated Press.

Several cyclist groups concerned about bike laws and safety, such as the California Association of Bicycling Organizations, are praising the bill's passage.

Governor Jerry Brown took some time to warm up to the bill. He previously vetoed two similar bills. Last year's version would have allowed drivers to cross the double yellow line to make room for the 3-foot buffer, according to the Roseville Patch.

That provision was nixed this time around and the bill finally got the green light.

According to the bill's legislative analysis, at least 22 states and the District of Columbia define a "safe buffer" as a distance of at least 3 feet, reports the AP.

Pennsylvania has a 4-feet passing law and Virginia has a 2-feet passing law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

However, a number of states -- such as Texas, Hawaii, and Michigan -- currently have no specific law in place for passing a bicyclist.

Penalties for Breaking the Bike Buffer

Under the new California law, if drivers cannot leave 3 feet of space, they must slow down and pass only when it would not endanger the cyclist's safety, reports the AP.

Case-by-case enforcement of the law will be up to local police departments.

When the new law takes effect next September, a violation will be an infraction punishable by a base fine of $35 plus court fees. If unsafe passing results in a crash that injures the cyclist , the driver could face a $220 fine.

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