Every bicyclist out there has had this experience: They’re doing their best to get to their destination, and it requires leaving a protected bike path, but they’re constantly being crowded by motor vehicles of one sort or another.
Even though drivers have long been required to give cyclists three feet of room when they pass, a significant percentage of those drivers don’t seem to have a clear idea of what that looks like in practice.
It’s scary. It’s dangerous. It’s far too lax a rule. Fortunately, 2023 brings new changes in the law, thanks to Assembly Bill 1909, or the “Safe Passing Rule,” which was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom back in September and took effect on the first day of January.
What does the Safe Passing Rule do for cyclists?
Now, there’s an extra duty placed on the drivers of motor vehicles when they want to pass a cyclist on the road. Whenever possible to do so safely, drivers of cars, SUVs, trucks and other vehicles are now required by law to change lanes before they pass the cyclist.
The goal is to minimize the number of crashes and “near misses” that cyclists experience when drivers get impatient and try to speed by. As a spokesperson for the California Office of Traffic Safety put it, “When a road user does make a mistake, there is a wider safety bugger that could reduce the chance of a serious injury.”
The new law makes it clear that this is an obligation imposed on top of the existing three-foot rule. In addition, drivers who cannot change lanes to pass a cyclist are now expected to slow down and wait until they can do so without putting the cyclist at risk of harm.
The law has teeth, too. Drivers caught in violation of the law can expect a minimum of $238 in fines and fees. If a cyclist is injured due to their actions, they can expect to pay closer to $1000 in fines and fees – on top of whatever compensation the bicyclist is owed for their losses.
Hopefully, 2023 will continue to bring progress in bicycle and pedestrian safety all over the state and the nation. If you are a cyclist who is hurt in a wreck, however, make sure that you take the appropriate steps to protect your future.