The state Senate on Friday approved legislation that would require drivers to be at least three feet away when passing bicyclists in most cases and would allow drivers to cross solid yellow lines to pass if safe to do so.

If safety conditions didn’t allow for the three-foot clearance, then drivers would have to slow to a reasonable and prudent speed, taking into consideration the size and speed of their vehicle, traffic, weather and road conditions.

The base fine for a violation would be $35 but with all of the fees and surcharges levied by courts at the Legislature’s direction, the total would be at least $233. If the driver hit and injured the bicyclist, the base fine would be $220 with total fine at about $959, under the bill.

A similar bill passed the Legislature last year but was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown because he objected to a provision requiring drivers who couldn’t safely pass more than three feet away to slow to 15 mph.

While noting he “wholeheartedly” supports bicycle safety, Brown said in his veto message that “Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol have raised legitimate concerns about other provisions, such as the 15-mph requirement. On streets with speed limits of 35 or 40 mph, slowing to 15 mph to pass a bicycle could cause rear-end collisions. On other roads, a bicycle may travel at or near 15 mph, creating a long line of cars behind the cyclist.  On other roads, a bicycle may travel at or near 15 mph, creating a long line of cars behind the cyclist.

“I encourage the author, proponents and opponents to send me a bill next year that solves these problems.”

The author of last year’s bill and this year’s, state Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, believes he has done just that by not setting a specific speed limit.

State law now requires drivers when passing vehicles or bicyclists to do so “at a safe distance without interfering with the safe operation of the vehicle or bicycle.”

And state law now prohibits drivers from crossing solid yellow lines unless they’re making a U-turn, turning left at an intersection or pulling into or out of a driveway. But it’s common for drivers now to cross the lines to pass bicyclists on rural roads across Sonoma County.

The bill, SB 1464, now goes to the Assembly.

The California Bicycle Coalition says about 20 states have three-foot passing laws regarding bicyclists.


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