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Will California's bicycle 'buffer zone' law improve safety?

Here in San Francisco and in other California cities, bicycling is more than just a recreational hobby. A growing number of Californians are choosing to make the bicycle their primary mode of transportation when commuting to and from work. And in a city where parking is nearly impossible to find, bicycling also makes practical sense.

Sadly, the infrastructure in the Bay Area was designed for automobiles, which means that interactions between cars and bicyclists are often dangerous and sometimes deadly. In 2012, there were more than 150 fatalities across California in bicycle accidents involving motor vehicles.

Thankfully, bicyclists will soon enjoy more protection than they currently have. Later this month, the “Three Feet for Safety” law goes into effect, mandating that motorists observe a three-foot buffer zone between their vehicles and bicycles when passing. If a three-foot buffer is not possible, drivers are supposed to reduce their speed and wait to pass until there is a safe opportunity to do so.

As with any safety law, this one will only be effective if everyone abides by it. Bicycle and pedestrian accidents are often caused by motorists who are already breaking the law by driving in an unsafe or inattentive matter. Other times, drivers fail to respect the rights of cyclists because they believe that bicyclists do not deserve to share roads that were built for automobiles.

In theory, the Three Feet for Safety law will result in safer streets for bicyclists and fewer injuries and fatalities. Will it be effective? Only time will tell.

Source: ABC 7 Eyewitness News, “CA Law Requires 3 Feet Buffer Between Drivers, Bicyclists,” Rob Hayes, Sept. 2, 2014

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