Ride Boldly!

Bikes, bicycling, and road safety.

Cyclist-Motorist Buffers

I always question the utility of buffer laws — rules in a state’s vehicle code that defines how closely a vehicle can pass a cyclist using a roadway legally. California is currently considering Assembly Bill 60, which would require that a driver passing a cyclist maintain at least a 3-foot buffer zone between their car and the bicycle. Current California statute requires that the car maintain a ‘safe’ buffer while passing.

Proposed penalty for violation of the statute is a $250 ticket. Of course, that’s if law enforcement sees the penalty and chooses to write the ticket.

One thing the new proposed rule adds versus current statute: A motorist would be allowed to cross the double yellow line into a center turn lane while passing. This isn’t permitted now. Some opponents of the bill are creating ‘oh no’ scenarios as part of their opposition, but most of their counter-arguments are pretty silly and suggest that motorists aren’t able to simply brake and wait if necessary.

Proponents of this California legislation are citing similar rules in other states. Minnesota is one such. And, as a Minnesotan, I really question how much the rule does for bicycle safety, or for awareness of cyclists among drivers. In a completely and utterly unscientific poll, people on my team at work had no idea that there was a statute requiring a 3-foot passing distance between a bicycle and a car. (It’s Minnesota Statute 169:18, Subd. 3, section 3, for the record.) While I didn’t take driver’s ed in this state, I know it wasn’t on the driving test I took when I moved here.

Given the lack of knowledge of the statute, and the conditions required for enforcement, what good is this kind of legislation except to make some legislators feel fuzzy inside? Anyone know?

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Author: julie

Julie Kosbab is an online marketing consultant and active transportation advocate living in Anoka County, Minnesota. She was one of Minnesota's only League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructors when certified in 2005. She is a past member of the National Bicycle Tour Directors Association. She has 2 children and 4 bicycles. Find her on Twitter as @betweenstations.

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