Protecting Cyclists: An Overview of California’s Three Feet for Safety Act

by Staff Blogger | November 6th, 2023

In California, many cyclists are injured when vehicles tail them too closely. According to the California Office of Traffic Safety, there has been a 60% increase in bicyclist deaths in the last 13 years.

To address this issue, the state introduced the Three Feet for Safety Act in 2014. This regulation mandates drivers maintain a minimum distance of three feet, approximately the width of a car’s passenger-side door, when overtaking cyclists, providing essential safety to bicyclists on the roadway.

Awareness of the legal stipulations and potential repercussions of non-compliance can help reduce accidents, ensuring safer California roads for cyclists. Should you suffer an injury as a cyclist due to a driver not maintaining a three-foot clearance, our team of California bike accident lawyers can assist you in pursuing compensation.

Understanding the Three Feet for Safety Act

The Three Feet for Safety Act has been pivotal in California’s initiatives to reduce traffic collisions involving bicyclists for nearly a decade since its enactment. This act mandates a clear buffer, specifying that space motorists must allow when overtaking a cyclist.

The Act, found under California Vehicle Code 21760, outlines the main actions for drivers when approaching and overtaking a bicycle:

  • 21760(b). When overtaking a bicycle on a highway, the driver of a motor vehicle must pass safely, accounting for the vehicle’s size, speed, traffic conditions, weather, and the road’s characteristics.
  • 21760(c). Drivers must maintain at least a three-foot distance from a bicycle when overtaking. If another lane is available in the same direction and is safe and legal, the driver should switch lanes before passing the bicycle.
  • 21760(d). If road or traffic conditions make the three-foot distance unfeasible, drivers should adjust their speed to be safe and cautious. Passing the bicycle is only allowed when it won’t compromise the cyclist’s safety, considering vehicle sizes, speeds, traffic, and environmental conditions.

The Importance of Safe Passing Distances

Maintaining safe passing distances goes beyond protocol; it can be a life-saving measure for cyclists. When a motor vehicle overtakes too closely, it can lead to dangerous circumstances, such as the cyclist losing their balance, being pushed off the road, or directly colliding with the vehicle. Even without direct contact, the air turbulence from a close pass can unsettle a cyclist, heightening the risk of an accident.

The Three Feet for Safety Act directly tackles these hazards, mandating drivers to keep at least a three-foot gap from bicyclists. This stipulated distance guarantees that cyclists have ample room to navigate securely, sidestep sudden shifts, or evade road obstacles, reducing potential mishaps.

Enforcement and Penalties Under the Act

Upholding the Three Feet for Safety Act is crucial for compliance and fostering safer roads. Motorists who breach this law face legal repercussions, underscoring the gravity of its mandates. The consequences for violating the act encompass:

  • $35 base fine plus court costs for violations that do not injure a cyclist
  • $220 base fine plus additional court costs for a collision that injured a bicyclist

Beyond the legal ramifications, close encounters can inflict physical and psychological harm on cyclists. Severe injuries or fatalities resulting from close passes can lead to civil lawsuits, allowing the cyclist to seek compensation from the at-fault motorist for medical costs, lost earnings, and emotional trauma.

Practical Safety Tips

Cyclists and motorists should follow safety guidelines to ensure nobody is hurt while traveling. Some practical tips for cyclists and motorists include:

For Cyclists:

  • Stay visible. Wear bright or reflective clothing, especially during low-light conditions. Use front and rear lights at night.
  • Wear protective gear. Always wear a helmet and consider other protective gear like gloves and pads.
  • Stay in designated areas. Use bike lanes or paths when available and avoid sidewalks unless permitted.
  • Avoid distractions. Don’t wear headphones or use your phone while cycling.
  • Follow traffic rules. Obey stop signs, traffic lights, and all other road signals.

For Motorists:

  • Stay alert. Always look for cyclists, especially in your blind spots and at intersections.
  • Maintain distance. Keep the mandated three-foot distance (or more) when overtaking a cyclist.
  • Signal early. Use your indicators in advance to alert cyclists of your intentions.
  • Avoid honking. Only use your horn when necessary, as it can startle cyclists.
  • Be patient. If overtaking a cyclist is unsafe, wait until it is safe to pass.  
  • Check before opening doors. Always check for approaching cyclists before opening your car door.
  • Educate yourself. Familiarize yourself with local cycling laws and road-sharing guidelines.

Seek Compensation With Berg Injury Lawyers

The Three Feet for Safety Act was implemented to protect cyclists and promote the safe shared usage of the road; however, accidents can still occur. If a driver’s negligence on the road caused you harm, you have the right to pursue compensation for your injuries.

At Berg Injury Lawyers, our team of bicycle accident specialists is well-acquainted with the obstacles cyclists face on California roads. We will advocate for your rights in an accident case, holding the at-fault driver accountable and assisting you in securing compensation. Contact our team today for a free consultation to start your case.