Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday rejected a legislation that would have required drivers to be at least three feet away when passing bicyclists in most cases and would have allowed drivers to cross solid yellow lines to pass if safe to do so.

Brown vetoed a similar bill last year.

While applauding the continuing effort by state Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, to improve bicycle safety, Brown said in his veto message that “crossing a double yellow line is an inherently dangerous act that increases the risk of head-on collisions. When a collision occurs, it will result in a lawsuit where the state is likely to be sued as a ‘deep pocket.’ By making it legal to cross a double yellow line, the bill weakens the state’s defense to these lawsuits.”

He said Caltrans had offered a way “to insulate the state from costly lawsuits” while keeping the three-foot buffer zone but “unfortunately” the bill’s author, state Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, wouldn’t amend the bill. Brown called on the bill’s sponsors, which included Assemblyman Wes Chesbro, D-Arcata, to work “with my administration to resolve the liability problem.”

Brown didn’t elaborate on Caltrans’ plan, and Caltrans officials were unavailable for comment Friday evening.

The vetoed bill, Senate Bill 1464, said that if safety conditions didn’t allow for the three-foot clearance, drivers then 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 have been $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 have been $220 with total fine at about $959, under the bill.

Brown rejected last year’s bill because he objected to a provision requiring drivers who couldn’t safely pass more than three feet away to slow to 15 mph. This year’s bill didn’t include that.

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


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