California’s 3-foot bicycle law figures to play role at Truckee-Tahoe | SierraSun.com

California’s 3-foot bicycle law figures to play role at Truckee-Tahoe

Margaret Moran
mmoran@sierrasun.com

TAHOE-TRUCKEE, Calif. — When passing cyclists on a California road this summer season, motorists need to remember to provide a multi-foot cushion — it's the law.

In a state known for being heavily reliant on automobiles, California adopted a law that went into effect last September, requiring drivers to stay at least 3 feet away when passing bicyclists on public roads.

"I find that many drivers give us plenty of space, but there are still too many who squeeze through," said Jonathan Laine, a Truckee resident who rides five to six times a week. "… I would estimate that one out of every two or three rides, I get buzzed closely. It is terrifying."

Previously, drivers were required to provide a "safe distance" when passing, but the law did not specify what that entailed.

According to the new law, should conditions make a 3-foot buffer impossible, drivers must slow to a "reasonable and prudent" speed and pass only when doing so would not endanger the safety of the cyclist.

"Why buzz pass?" asked Paco Lindsay, a Tahoe Donner resident who bikes on the road four times a week. "You're playing chicken with people's lives.

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"… That is a person. It's not just a thing getting in your way for five seconds."

SAFETY CONCERNS

If caught driving too close to a cyclist, a driver could face a $35 fine, with a heftier fine of $220 for drivers who collide with cyclists and cause bodily harm. Costs could increase when court fees are added.

"The idea behind the 3-foot law is to increase safety for all people who use the roadway both for travel and for recreation," said Pete Mann, California Highway Patrol Truckee public information officer. "… For most officers, we look for safety to truly be infringed upon to write the violation."

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READ MORE: The bicycle's impact on Tahoe's economy has been gradual but steadily growing.

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Nationwide, 743 cyclists were killed and an estimated 48,000 injured in motor vehicle crashes in 2013, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Of those killed, 141 occurred in California, making it the state with the highest cycling fatalities.

"The law does little to increase our safety; it will be the education of the drivers that is important," Laine said. "Like drunk driving laws, arresting drunk drivers is not nearly as important as keeping them from driving in the first place."

Therefore, cyclists on the road still need to ride defensively and respectively, said Tim Schroeder, a Tahoe City resident and former competitive cyclist who now rides for recreation.

"Safe riding starts with awareness," he said. "You really can't be complacent on a bike. Look ahead, look behind and don't expect a car to do what you think it's going to do.

" … Also understand that you don't own the road just because you are on a bike. Sharing the road goes both ways."

RESPONSIBILITY A TWO-WAY STREET

Cyclists are required to follow the same traffic laws as motor vehicles, including stopping at stop signs and red lights, riding with the flow of traffic and signaling before moving left or right.

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READ MORE: California continued its climb up the ranks of bike-friendly states, recently moving up to eighth in the nation.

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"Our officers will stop bicyclists in violation of traffic laws, and while we like to issue warnings first to educate, a bicyclist may be cited for traffic safety infractions," said Jason Litchie, Truckee Police Department's traffic officer.

In 2012 and 2013, Truckee Police reported two fatal cycling collisions; in both cases, the cyclists were found at fault.

"These collisions would have been entirely preventable if the cyclist had been following normal rules of the road," Litchie said.

In 2014, there were no cycling fatalities in Truckee, he said.

California and Nevada are among 24 states with a 3-foot minium passing distance law.

"(This) really is an educational and awareness law," Litchie said. "By publicizing it and encouraging conversation, more and more drivers become aware and our roads become safer for everyone."

Tahoe Bike Challenge

Every year for two weeks, Tahoe residents and visitors are encouraged to ride their bikes to work, school and shops instead of driving. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Tahoe Bike Challenge, which will run from June 1 to June 14. Click here to learn more.