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Three-Foot Passing Bill Vetoed in California

Published October 7, 2011

SACRAMENTO, CA (BRAIN)—Despite hundreds of letters from cyclists, advocates and industry suppliers and retailers in support of a bill that would require motorists to give riders three feet of room when passing, California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the pending legislation Friday.

His opposition stemmed from a provision in the bill (SB 910) that said that if a motorist couldn’t give a cyclist 3 feet when passing, then the driver would need to slow down to 15 mph. The current law requires that drivers pass cyclists at a safe distance but doesn't specify what that distance should be.

“This bill offers some needed and clear improvements to the law such as specifying a minimum buffer of 3 feet,” the governor said in his veto message. “However, Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol have raised legitimate concerns about other provisions such as the 15 mph requirement.”

Gov. Brown said the bill raised concerns about the potential of causing rear-end collisions on higher speed limit roads and creating traffic on streets where cars would get stuck behind cyclists.

But Jim Brown, communications director for the California Bicycle Coalition, said many other states already have 3-foot passing laws and none have reported these problems.

“Twenty states have these laws in the books. The fact that there was such controversy here is hard to understand,” Brown said. “It’s a bill that’s been road tested in a lot of states—for 38 years in Wisconsin. We’re not at the forefront here. The idea that there’s going to be a rash of collisions isn’t supported by other states’ experience.”

Brown said the CBC delivered 1,500 letters to the governor in support of the bill, including statements from industry representatives at Shimano American, Oakley and Specialized, among others. “We never dreamed that this would be the hardest part of passing the bill—convincing the governor,” he said.

This is the third three-foot passing bill that the CBC has sponsored, Brown said, adding that the statewide advocacy group hasn’t decided whether it will reintroduce the bill.

“The CHP and trucking industry have killed previous attempts,” Brown said. “The fact that this bill managed to go as far as it did is really encouraging—it means the legislators get it.”

For more information on the bill and the CBC's legislative efforts, click on the link above.

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