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New Law Aims to Improve Cyclist Safety on California Roadways

The McClellan Law Firm

A new state law was recently enacted in California that may do much to promote the safety of cyclists. With increasing numbers of bicyclists taking to the streets across the state, some motorists have responded with frustration. A new term, bikelash, was even coined to describe negative or hostile reactions to cyclists, particularly from motorists or law enforcement. This new law implements fines and other possible ramifications for motorists who do not give cyclists the space they deserve.

Starting September 16, motorists across California will be required to allow for a buffer of at least 3 feet when passing cyclists. If there is not enough room to pass while observing this distance, motorists must wait until there is sufficient room – or face hefty fines.

The base fine for violating this law is $35, but a motorist could face about $150 in financial losses with court costs. If a bicyclist is injured as a result of a violation, the at-fault motorist may face a fine of up to $150 to $220. The injured bicyclist may also be able to pursue financial compensation in a civil lawsuit against the driver. With the legal presumption that the motorist was responsible for the cyclist's injuries in relation to the 3-foot buffer violation, the cyclist may have an easier time winning in court.

The focus on bicyclist safety comes at an important time. According to the latest statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there was a 6% increase in the number of cyclist fatalities on U.S. roadways from 2011 to 2012. The majority of these deaths occurred in urban areas (69%) at non-intersections (60%). Nearly half of fatalities occurred in the late afternoon and evening, between 4pm and 11:59pm.

California had the highest number of cyclist fatalities in 2012 (124) and the second-highest percentage of cyclist fatalities (4.6%) of all states in the U.S. These numbers are not surprising when you consider that weather conditions typically favor cyclists, and that California is the most populous state in the U.S.

Bicyclists should remember to wear properly fitting helmets when riding and should also wear bright, reflective clothing to improve their visibility to motorists. At night, they should use lights and reflectors. They also have an obligation to obey the same rules of the road as other vehicle operators, and this includes traffic signals, lane markings and traffic signs. They should ride in the same direction as traffic and should not ride on sidewalks. Following these steps can help cyclists avoid collisions with motorists.

Motorists also have a responsibility when it comes to preventing bicycle accidents, by sharing the road with cyclists. Motorists should remember that bicycle riders have the same rights and responsibilities as other vehicle operators on the road, and they should maintain at least three feet of clearance when passing a cyclist. This buffer can help prevent a serious collision that could cause catastrophic injuries or claim a bicyclist's life.