A multitude of states have passed so-called “buffer laws” that specify the distance a motorist must keep away from a bicyclist while passing them on the road. California is one of the most recent states to enact the law, specifying a distance of three feet. The buffer laws can be seen as simply a more exact requirement than laws already in place. Previous laws provided vague language, such as “safe distance,” which is impossible to truly legally determine. Everyone hopes that the new law will help keep riders safer.
The Advantages of the Change
With the distance a motorist must keep from a cyclist now defined, drivers have a better determination about just how far is “safe”. It is likely that many drivers already provide cyclists with more than three feet of distance, but the new law makes that distance official. Drivers that know and follow this guidance are much less likely to injure a cyclist accidentally.
The new exactness of the law has a much more obvious impact when it comes to lawsuits or other legal incidents involving cars and bicycles. When an incident does occur, the fact that a diver violated the law by being closer than three feet from the cyclist can be argued. This makes the violation far more clear. Either the driver was three feet away or farther or they were not, and the motorist cannot counter the argument with a claim that from their perspective they were a “safe distance” away.
If a motorist is found to be in violation of the new law, the fine is $35 plus court costs. This increases dramatically if the biker is injured due to the violation. The fine rises to $233 plus court costs. An injury can also be grounds for a personal injury lawsuit against the driver that could potentially be much greater than any penalty imposed.
Other Aspects of the Law
The new law also clarifies the rights of cyclists to ride on roads even if there is no designated bike lane. The three-foot rule will apply to all instances of bikes and cars sharing the same road space. The new law does not change other conditions surrounding cars and bikes. For example, it does not require a car to wait to pass a cyclist on a narrow road, but the driver must ensure that whenever they do pass that they keep the three feet of distance.
Law enforcement is not preparing for any major crackdown of the new law, but they will be on the lookout for incidents in high-risk areas.