10 things you should know about CA’s new 3-foot passing law

Photo by ABC 7 News
Photo by ABC 7 News

1. The law requires a driver passing a bike to give at least 3 feet of clearance between any part of the vehicle and any part of the bike or the person riding it.

2. Where 3 feet of clearance isn’t available due to road or traffic conditions, the driver must slow down and pass only when it’s safe to do so. The new law doesn’t change the prohibition against crossing a double yellow centerline in order to pass another vehicle or bike on a two-lane road.

3. State law previously required drivers to pass at a “safe distance” but didn’t specify what that distance should be.

New sign in Napa County, the first place in the state
Napa County is the first place in the state to post warning signs

4. The law applies where a driver is passing a bike from behind, in the same lane and the same direction of travel. It may also apply to a driver passing a bike traveling in an adjacent bike lane. The CA Vehicle Code section about “overtaking” (the part revised by the new 3-foot passing law) isn’t that specific, so there may need to be a court ruling about this in the future.

5. The law was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2013 and took effect on Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014.

6. The law is enforced just like the speed limit is enforced: drivers who are observed passing unsafely could be cited.

7. The fine for a violation is $235 for passing too closely ($35 base fine + court fees) and $959 for causing an injury to a bicyclist while passing too closely ($220 base fine + court fees). Judges have discretion to adjust fine amounts, so the actual amount could vary from case to case.

8. A violation constitutes an infraction (like a speeding ticket) and adds a point to the driver’s record.

9. The DMV Driver’s Handbook has recommended giving bikes at least three feet of clearance when passing for many years. Since 2007 California’s Move Over law has required drivers to slow down and move over when passing highway work crews.

10. 23 other states have similar laws. In Pennsylvania, the minimum distance is 4 feet. It took four tries to get California’s law enacted.

Read the text of California’s law
Read answers to frequently asked questions from our friends at Bike East Bay
Watch a video that depicts passing with 3 feet of clearance

Still have questions about the new law? Contact us at saba@sacbike.org