BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    






           SENATE TRANSPORTATION & HOUSING COMMITTEE       BILL NO: sb 910
          SENATOR MARK DESAULNIER, CHAIRMAN              AUTHOR:  lowenthal
                                                         VERSION: 4/26/11
          Analysis by:  Jennifer Gress                   FISCAL:  yes
          Hearing date:  May 3, 2011



          SUBJECT:

          Vehicles: bicycles: passing distance

          DESCRIPTION:

          This bill requires the driver of a motor vehicle passing a 
          bicycle proceeding in the same direction to pass on the left and 
          provide a minimum clearance of three feet or drive at a speed 
          not exceeding 15 miles per hour (mph) faster than the speed of 
          the bicycle.  It also establishes a fine of $220 for a violation 
          of this provision and allows a driver to drive on the left side 
          of double parallel solid lines if driving on a substandard width 
          lane and passing a person riding a bicycle or operating a 
          pedicab in the same direction. 

          ANALYSIS:

          A person riding a bicycle or operating a pedicab has all of the 
          rights and is subject to all of the laws applicable to the 
          driver of a motor vehicle, except for those laws that by their 
          very nature can have no application.

          A person riding a bicycle at a speed less than the normal speed 
          of traffic moving in the same direction shall ride "as close as 
          practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway" 
          except under certain circumstances, including when passing 
          another bicycle, when preparing to turn left at an intersection 
          or driveway, or when reasonably necessary to avoid conditions 
          that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or 
          edge.

          When passing a bicycle proceeding in the same direction, the 
          driver of a vehicle shall pass to the left "at a safe distance 
          without interfering with the safe operation of the vehicle or 
          bicycle."  On a two-lane highway, no vehicle shall be driven to 
          the left of the center of the roadway in passing another vehicle 
          proceeding in the same direction unless the left side is clearly 




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          visible and free of oncoming traffic for a sufficient distance.  
          If double parallel solid lines are in place, a person driving a 
          vehicle shall not drive to the left of those lines unless the 
          driver is making a legal U-turn, turning left at an intersection 
          or into or out of a driveway, or if signs have otherwise been 
          erected to permit it.

           This bill  requires the driver of a motor vehicle passing a 
          bicycle proceeding in the same direction to pass on the left and 
          provide a minimum clearance of three feet or drive at a speed 
          not exceeding 15 miles per hour (mph) faster than the speed of 
          the bicycle.  

           This bill  also establishes a fine of $220 for failure to provide 
          the minimum three-feet clearance or passing at a speed exceeding 
          15 mph faster than the speed of the bicycle.

           This bill  also allows the driver of a motor vehicle to drive on 
          the left side of double parallel solid lines if driving on a 
          substandard width lane and passing a person riding a bicycle or 
          operating a pedicab in the same direction. 
            
          COMMENTS:

           1.Purpose  .  The author states that current law requiring a 
            motorist to "pass to the left at a safe distance" when passing 
            a cyclist is vague and that this bill addresses that 
            deficiency by defining safe distance as three feet.  As a 
            co-sponsor of this measure, the Mayor of Los Angeles states 
            that the City of Los Angeles has recently adopted a new 
            citywide bicycle plan with the goals of increasing the number 
            and types of bicyclists in Los Angeles, making every street a 
            safe place to ride a bicycle, and making the City of Los 
            Angeles a bicycle-friendly community.  For the plan to meet 
            these goals, it is important that bicyclists feel safe while 
            riding.  The Mayor explains that "unfortunately, law-abiding 
            people riding bicycles are still subject to harassment by 
            aggressive drivers; this harassment includes driving too close 
            to and cutting in front of bicyclists."  While the City of Los 
            Angeles has undertaken steps to address this situation, 
            statewide legislation is needed to provide a clear three-foot 
            buffer zone for cyclists. 
             
             The California Bicycle Coalition is co-sponsoring this measure 
            "to promote safety in cycling and to provide law enforcement 
            with the structure necessary to evaluate potential passing 




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            violations."  The sponsor further explains that a "specified 
            passing distance provides a more objective and easily 
            understood measure of what constitutes "safe" and gives law 
            enforcement and the courts a more objective basis for 
            enforcing California's safe passing requirement."

           2.Enforceability  .  This bill requires both a driver and a law 
            enforcement officer to judge the distance between the 
            overtaking vehicle and a bicyclist as the driver of the 
            vehicle passes, yet there is no practical way to measure three 
            feet from afar when two objects are moving.  How can either be 
            sure that the driver is not 3 feet, 3 inches away rather than 
            2 feet, 9 inches?  What if a bicyclist inadvertently moves 
            slightly toward the vehicle by a few inches or intentionally 
            swerves toward it to avoid other hazards in the road, such as 
            debris or a car door opening?  Enforcing the three-foot buffer 
            may prove challenging given the difficulties involved in 
            measuring three feet. 

           3.Is three feet always "safe  ?"  By defining safe distance as 
            three feet, this bill presupposes that three feet is always a 
            safe distance.  There may be instances, however, when three 
            feet of clearance is inadequate and a driver should provide 
            greater clearance to ensure a safe distance when passing.  
            Examples include when a driver can see debris in the roadway 
            that could conceivably cause a cyclist to veer or when there 
            is a high turnover of vehicles parked along the side of the 
            road.  Safe passing is not solely determined by those 
            conditions present at the moment a driver decides to pass, but 
            those the driver anticipates could occur when he or she is 
            actually passing.   
                
            4.15 mph  .  Each roadway presents a unique set of characteristics 
            and conditions that affect safe passing and that may limit the 
            ability of a driver to provide three feet of clearance.  This 
            bill acknowledges that by giving drivers the option not to 
            provide three feet of clearance and instead to slow down to 
            within 15 mph of the speed of the bicyclist.  This provision 
            raises several questions and concerns.    

            First, it requires the driver to engage in mental acrobatics 
            trying to determine the distance between the vehicle and the 
            bicyclist and then, if three feet seems infeasible for 
            whatever reason, to calculate the speed of the bicyclist and 
            adjust his or her own speed accordingly.  The auto clubs 
            describe this cognitive process and its potential dangers in 




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            their letter of opposition, which reads in part:  

               It requires the driver to estimate the speed of the bicycle 
               and then calculate the difference between the speed it is 
               traveling and the speed the bicycle is traveling, and then 
               adjust the speed at which his/her vehicle should be 
               traveling to assure it is not going 15 mph faster than the 
               bicycle.  Drivers currently are not required to estimate 
               the speed of other moving objects around them, and to 
               precisely calculate their speed in relation to that moving 
               object.  To do so devotes a lot of thought and attention to 
               accomplishing the calculations and less attention and time 
               to observing driving conditions and reacting to sudden 
               changes.  

            Second, allowing drivers to pass within three feet of a 
            bicycle because they are driving within 15 mph of the speed of 
            a bicyclist provides an unclear standard for drivers.  The 
            question this bill poses is, under what circumstances is it 
            safe to pass a bicyclist?  Allowing passing within the buffer 
            this bill creates, but at a different speed, confuses this 
            standard. 

            Third, it is unclear whether passing when the driver is 
            traveling within 15 mph of the speed of the bicyclist enhances 
            the safety of bicyclists.  Current law provides that one may 
            pass only when it is safe to do so.  Therefore, in situations 
            where it is unsafe to provide three feet of clearance, the 
            safe alternative would be for the driver not to pass until he 
            or she can.  

            In short, 15 mph is a confusing standard that will be 
            difficult for drivers to calculate and that contradicts the 
            spirit of the bill to provide a safe buffer for bicyclists 
            being passed by motor vehicles.  For this reason, the 
            committee may wish to consider an amendment to delete the 15 
            mph provision from the bill.

           5.Crossing double solid lines  .  Double solid lines are put in 
            place when traffic engineers determine that characteristics of 
            the roadway make it unsafe to pass.  Does allowing a vehicle 
            to cross these lines create an unsafe driving situation?  The 
            author argues that a bicycle is moving much slower and 
            requires less clearance than another motor vehicle and thus 
            would not pose the same risk. Others argue that crossing 
            double solid lines when passing a bicyclist is already a 




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            matter of practice for some motorists.

           6.Appropriate penalty  ?  This bill establishes a base fine of 
            $220 for a violation of its provisions.  After assessments, 
            surcharges, and fees are added, the total bail for a violation 
            of the infraction this bill creates would total $959.  The 
            author chose this penalty amount because it is believed to be 
            the same as for a vehicle failing to yield and causing bodily 
            injury.  The subject of this bill is safe passing.  
            Establishing a penalty for unsafe passing, therefore, seems 
            more appropriate.  The base fine for unsafe passing under 
            current law is $35, which, with assessments, surcharges, and 
            fees equals a total bail of $233.  The committee may wish to 
            consider an amendment to change the penalty amount from $220 
            ($959 total bail) to $35 ($233 total bail) in order to make 
            the penalty consistent with that for an unsafe passing 
            violation.
                
            7.Defining "substandard width lane  ."   This bill allows a driver 
            to drive on the left of double parallel solid lines when the 
            driver is on a "substandard width lane," but does not define 
            what "substandard" is.  A different code section excepting 
            bicycles from the requirement to ride as close as is 
            "practicable" to the curb or edge on the right side of the 
            roadway defines "substandard width lane" as "a lane that is 
            too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side 
            by side within the lane."  For purposes of clarity, the author 
            or committee may wish to consider an amendment to define 
            "substandard width lane" using this same definition. 
                
            8.Passing on the left only  ?  This bill defines safe distance as 
            three feet only when a motor vehicle passes a bicyclist on the 
            left.  There are instances, however, when a vehicle may 
            lawfully pass a bicyclist on the right, such as when a 
            bicyclist is turning left or when a bicyclist is riding in the 
            far left lane on a one-way street.  It is unclear why the 
            three-foot buffer should not also apply when passing a 
            bicyclist on the right.  If it is only safe to pass on the 
            left when providing clearance of three feet, it seems 
            reasonable to require the same clearance when passing on the 
            right.  The committee may wish to consider an amendment to 
            also require that vehicles provide three feet of clearance 
            when passing a bicyclist on the right.  
                
            9.Other states  .  According to information provided by the 
            California Bicycle Coalition, approximately 13 states have 




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            enacted a three-foot passing law.  The first was Wisconsin in 
            1974.  The majority of the others passed their laws in the 
            last ten years.
                
            10.  Technical amendment  .  On page 3, line 4 of the bill, 
            "drive" should be replaced by "driver."
                
            11.  Recent legislation  .  There have been two other recent 
            attempts to establish a three-foot passing law:  AB 60 (Nava) 
            in 2007 and AB 1941 (Nava) in 2006.  Both measures died in the 
            Assembly Transportation Committee.
          
           POSITIONS:  (Communicated to the Committee before noon on 
                     Wednesday,
                       April 27, 2011)

               SUPPORT:  Office of the Mayor, City of Los Angeles 
          (co-sponsor)
                         California Bicycle Coalition (co-sponsor)
                         Amgen Cycling Club            
                         Channel Islands Bicycle Club
                         Humboldt Bay Bicycle Commuters Association
                         Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates
                         Santa Cruz County Cycling Club
                         Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition
                         47 individuals

          
               OPPOSED:  AAA Northern California
                         Automobile Club of Southern California