The new California law improves safety by giving bicyclists more space on the road.

A new California law – the Three Feet for Safety Act – requires motorists to give bicyclists 3 feet of clearance when passing them from behind.

OCTAThe new California law requiring motorists to give bicyclists 3 feet of clearance when passing from behind applies to all roadways on and off campus.

If traffic or roadway conditions prevent motorists from giving bicyclists a 3-foot buffer, motorists must slow down and only pass bicyclists when it is safe to do so, according to the new law, which went into effect in September.

The new law applies to all roadways on and off the Stanford campus.

“Many traffic laws reflect the fact that some road users – pedestrians, school children and emergency workers, for example – are especially vulnerable to passing motor vehicles,” said Sgt. Adam Cullen of Stanford’s Department of Public Safety.

“That’s why drivers have special speed limits and special passing rules when approaching crosswalks, schools, emergency vehicles and road crews. Specifying 3 feet as the minimum passing distance extends similar protection to people on bikes.”

Cullen said state law has never given motorists a right to pass bicyclists whenever or wherever they wanted, but required that they pass “at a safe distance.”

Motorists who do not give 3 feet of clearance when passing a bicyclist must be prepared to demonstrate that 3 feet was not available, and that the slower, closer pass was done according to the law, Cullen said.

“This is a higher burden of proof for drivers than we had under the old law, which placed no conditions on how to pass at a safe distance,” he said.

Drivers cited for violating the new law will be fined $35. Drivers who collide with cyclists and injure them while violating the new law can be subject to a $220 fine.

Cullen said the new law is invaluable when a bicyclist is injured in a collision, because it establishes a clear basis for citing motorists for unsafe passing.

California is one of 24 states that require motorists to give bicyclists 3 feet of clearance while passing.

The Orange County Transportation Authority has posted a humorous and informative 30-second video, “Bike Smart – Bike Safe,” about the new law on its website.

The California Bicycle Coalition has created brightly colored reflective stickers for bikes, “Give me 3 feet,” and bumper stickers and window clings for cars, “I give 3 feet.” The organization also has created a Three Feet for Safety FAQ.