CA Bike Coalition Refutes CHP’s Claims About 3-Foot Passing Law

Close passes like this one on Market Street would be explicitly illegal under the three-foot passing law, which is already in place in 20 states. Flickr photo: ## Masoner / Cyclelicious##

This article is re-published with permission from the California Bicycle Coalition blog.

Update: Governor Jerry Brown has vetoed the 3-foot passing bill. His statement can be found here [PDF]. 

The California Bicycle Coalition has compiled evidence showing that 3-foot-passing laws haven’t had any negative impacts on traffic flows in other states that have enacted these laws, and that such laws are actually boosting bicycle ridership and changing driver behavior for the better.

CBC is responding to reports that the California Highway Patrol is conjuring up worst-case scenarios as part of its whispering campaign to persuade Gov. Jerry Brown to veto Senate Bill 910, the 3-foot-passing bill cosponsored by the CBC and the City of Los Angeles.

The CHP reportedly is telling Gov. Brown that SB 910 would cause an epidemic of rear-end collisions as drivers slam on their brakes when they realize they don’t have space to pass bicyclists by at least three feet. Yet the CHP hasn’t produced any evidence of such problems in any of the 20 states that have 3-foot-passing laws on the books.

Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists, the nation’s oldest bicycling advocacy organization, wrote this week in a letter to Gov. Brown, “In our experience working with the 19 [sic] other states that have passed three-foot passing laws, we have heard of no increases in the number of motor vehicle crashes due to the new requirements or any increased burden on law enforcement. In contrast, we have received nothing but positive responses to these laws.”

The Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin has seen no traffic problems in the 38 years since Wisconsin enacted the nation’s first 3-foot-passing law. “I’m not aware of any negative repercussions on traffic safety or capacity due to the passage of this law,” wrote Kevin Hardman, the federation’s executive director, in a letter to the CBC.

That’s also been Minnesota’s experience under the nation’s second 3-foot-passing law, enacted in the mid-1980s. “[The law] has, however, had a positive impact on bicycling,” wrote Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota Executive Director Dorian Grilley. “Over half of Minnesotans bicycle and they are bicycling more frequently.  Motor vehicle drivers seem to have noticed this fact and appear to be at the beginning stages of a significant cultural shift toward respecting bicyclists and pedestrians….”

Grilley’s observation is supported by the landmark 2003 study, Safety in Numbers, which demonstrates that increases in bicycle ridership reduce the incidence of all types of bike-car collisions.

Nothing like the CHP’s nightmare occurred in Arizona after it became the nation third state to enact a 3-foot-passing law. “With respect to any assertion that this kind of law may cause some major difficulties or ‘mayhem,’ we simply have not found that to be the case in Arizona, where the law has been in effect for approximately ten years,” wrote Coalition of Arizona Bicyclists President Robert Beane.

Same in Oklahoma, according to Mike Flenniken of the Oklahoma Bicycle Coalition: “No motorists have died or been injured because of the law, not one editorial or letter to the editor has been published against the law, [and] in fact, one municipality that I know of (Edmond, Oklahoma) acted at the request of their police officers to install an ordinance to add teeth to the State law which would make it enforceable even if there were no injuries incurred.”

Nor did anyone in Nevada raise the possibility of problems when that state’s bill was being debated. According to the Nevada Department of Transportation, Nevada’s 3-foot-passing law, which took effect last Saturday, attracted no opposition at all. The Nevada Senate unanimously approved 3-foot-passing legislation in April 2011.

Originally CHP supported SB 910, a surprising sea change from five years ago, when it managed to get CBC’s earlier 3-foot-passing bill killed in its first legislative hearing.

Throughout the legislative debate over SB 910, CHP said it supported the idea of giving bicyclists at least three feet of space. And CHP actually wrote the portion of SB 910 that authorizes drivers to cross a solid double-yellow centerline – currently prohibited under CA law – to give bicyclists at least three feet when passing.

Dan Empfield, publisher of Slowtwitch, contacted the CHP’s legislative representative Capt. Avery Brown about the CHP’s opposition to the bill. Brown told Empfield the CHP prefers to see text in the bill that does not mandate a specific distance.

In effect, the CHP endorses the status quo in California, where existing state law leaves drivers to figure out what constitutes a “safe” passing distance and where more bicyclists are killed by drivers passing from behind than by any other single cause. CBC and the City of Los Angeles continue to insist that the situation is unfair to drivers and presents an unreasonable hazard for people who rely on bicycles for transportation.

Meanwhile, more than 1,500 Californians, including bicycle advocates, bicycling club officials and members, survivors and the families of victims of passing-from-behind collisions, parents, teachers, healthcare professionals and corporate leaders, have written to Gov. Brown to urge him to sign SB 910.

  • mikesonn

    I get buzzed constantly on SF streets. Most of the time it is a driver who wants to beat me to a very red (and staying red) light.

  • Anonymous

    Will Jerry Brown join Rick Perry as the only governors to veto these laws?

  • Anonymous

    Couldn’t it be 3 feet or no more than 5 MPH faster than the cyclist?  Essentially a wide pass or a slow pass.

  • Jack C Cooper

    What works in Oklahoma works in California.  Oh wait, no it doesn’t.

    As a cyclist and auto-er, this law is stupid.  States like Oklahoma and Arizona have wide roads, and far less population.  California is too intensely populated and overdeveloped for this law to be effectively implemented here.  Put our efforts toward expanding bike lanes and imporoving roads.

  • Anonymous

    I just heard he veto’ed.  Confirmation?

  • Anonymous

    It’s a moot point now, but it’s already illegal to pass unsafely.  So I conclude that you think it’s safe to pass with less than a three foot margin, which directly contradicts the guidelines in the driver’s handbook.  Jack, if that’s the case, it’s scary having idiots like you on the roads.  You shouldn’t have a license.  Please before you maim someone, give it up.

  • Archergal

    OTOH, Georgia recently passed a three-foot law.  So today I get passed about as closely as the woman in the picture at the top was passed.

    By a cop.  So laws by themselves mean NOTHING.

  • Is it 15mph total or 15mph difference between the cyclist and the car? That differential in speed is what matters to me, not the total.

  • Anonymous

    Okay.. so if you’re descending a hill at 40 mph and a car gets personal with you at 50 mph, that’s safe?   Wrong.  The reason for the 15 mph limit is for situations like intersections where everyone’s shifting postion.

  • Anonymous

    But if the car had hit you, it would have been obvious the driver was at fault.  That’s not the case now.

  • Gov. Brown’s veto is based on flawed logic. There’s either room to pass safely, or there isn’t — and if not, then traffic *must* wait.

  • Joe Mizereck

    I am disappointed in both Governor Brown and California’s Highway Patrol.  The veto is certainly a set back for safety and saving cyclists’ lives.  But, I am confidant that California will get it right sometime in the near future
    To everyone who worked to make this happen…do not be discouraged.  Leadership changes and creates new opportunities.  Learn from this and let’s do all we can to make it happen next time around.

    Joe Mizereck 

  • Edward J. Wagner Jr.

    Most Oklahoma lanes are no more than 12 feet wide, though the turnpikes and other limited access roads are 14 feet.  And while it’s true that the state is far less populous than CA, the population is largely concentrated in Tulsa and OKC, bringing the same problems with congestion and road space that occur elsewhere. 

    I don’t accept the premise that 3 foot passing laws increase the number of cyclists on our roadways, however.  I suspect that has more to do with economics than ‘feel good’ measures that are essentially unenforceable.  Andy Clarke and his flunkies will feed you pablum about these laws, but start doing a search for motorists charged with violating them, and you’ll find a handful of cases at best.

  • Masonic will be the death…

    Want to hear something really crazy? Tennessee passed this very law over 6 months ago. Yeah, that Tennessee.

  • Masonic will be the death…

    When a driver does that to me nowadays I just roll up in front of them and make sure to take the lane and slow them down to the next light/stop as well. Sanchez from 17th to 16th to Market to 14th comes to mind. I used to give a glare at them, but now I just act like they aren’t there, like they do to me.

  • fj

    20s plenty with this law would be even better. 

  • Reasonable

    masonic will be the death… That’s the way to do it! Piss off people.  That’s right people, just like you,  not monsters, just people trying to get from one place to another, just like you.  If you think you are teaching anybody a lesson, you have a lot to learn, but that is not what you are trying to do anyway.

  • Masonic will be the death…

    @9bafefcbbc688f22f6665e43528a43fb:disqus which of course is a laugh. Get hit and run over from behind by one of your “people just trying to get from one place to another” because they were too important and in too much of a hurry to wait for a safe moment to pass, then come on here spouting about pissing people off.
     I have x-rays and months of rehab to remind me and reinforce why I will take the lane. Give a driver an extra foot and they will try and take three even if that means putting you under their front bumper (and in my case try and leave the scene).

    Any driver who gets pissed at a cyclist for obeying the law – which states by the way, that where no bike lane is present or if it is unusable the cyclist is entitled to the full use of the lane – is the one with the problem, not the cyclist.

  • Rick Krupa

    So, according to the governors veto, all they would really need to do is subtract the language about 15 mph. So get rid of it. I’m a decent cyclist and if a car slowed to 15mph, he or she is not passing me. i’m more comfy if a car passes quickly and gets away. Even a novice cyclist would average almost 15mph for an entire ride. I like the three feet. keep that in the bill and don’t push for other language that is ridiculous.

  • Rick Krupa

    me too. just get by me. don’t ride close for a long time, that is more nerve racking.

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