A bill winding its way through the Legislature would require drivers to make sure they stay at least three feet away when passing a bicyclist or slow to no more than 15 mph when passing a cyclist if less than three feet away.

The measure, Senate Bill 910, passed the Assembly Transportation Committee on an 8-5 vote Monday after an apparent raucous hearing and now heads to the Assembly Appropriations Committee. It passed the state Senate in May.

The bill by state Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, would allow drivers on narrow roads to go over a double yellow line, when safe, to pass a bicyclist in order to achieve the three-foot gap. Most drivers do that now on country roads when passing cyclists even though technically it’s illegal.

Lowenthal’s chief of staff, John Casey, said 19 other states require the three-foot distance, and bicycle groups in California have been advocating such a law here. Current law requires a “safe distance” but doesn’t define that.

The bill calls for fines of $35 for violations, with additional fines if the driver hits and injures a bicyclist.

Casey, a self-described avid cyclist, said he got the senator to introduce the bill, which originally would have required drivers to pass only with a three-foot gap or no more than 15 mph faster than the cyclist if less than three feet.

Casey said a three-foot gap is reasonable on most roads, considering that a standard lane is 12 feet wide and a car is about seven feet wide.

The bill is supported by bicycle groups around the state and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. It is opposed by the Teamsters Union and AAA.

“We believe requiring the motorist to suddenly drop speed to 15mph is dangerous for all on the road, especially on roads where the speed limit is higher,” AAA spokeswoman Cynthia Harris said in a statement.

She said AAA has no issue with the three-foot passing distance nor being able to cross a double yellow but won’t support the bill unless the speed provision is changed.

“We are working on a solution,” she said.

Harris said that at Monday’s hearing Lowenthal agreed to work with opponents “to refine” the speed provision — “at least that is our understanding.”

A report by calbike.org on Monday’s hearing said a lobbyist for the Teamsters testified against the bill before shouting “this bill is veto bait” and “storming out of the hearing room, indicating the Teamsters plan to lean on Gov. Edmund G. Brown to veto the law if it’s passed.”

Casey called AAA’s opposition is “absurb,” noting AAA branches in the other 19 states didn’t oppose the bills there.

To read the bill, CLICK HERE.

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