From the Sacramento Bee, 12.18.06:
A Santa Barbara assemblyman is fighting to change state law--by 36 inches.This bill has been kicking around for at least two sessions. A crash involving a bicyclist and an overtaking vehicle is indeed the scariest and most dangerous kind of collision. Fortunately, it is the one of the least common kinds of bicyclist-vehicle crashes; collisions at intersections are far more frequent.
Democrat Pedro Nava, in memory of a 21-year-old bicyclist struck and killed by a trailer truck on a narrow Santa Barbara road, is pushing for a 3-foot buffer zone for bicycles that are passed by cars or other motor vehicles.
"It's from your nose to the end of your fingertip," Nava said. "It's an easy distance to remember. And I think it's the least we can do for bicycle safety."
Violators would be subject to base fines of $250, rising to about $875 once local fees are tacked on. Motorists could be charged criminally if a bicyclist were killed or seriously injured. (Read more.)
Will this bill improve safety for bicyclists? I doubt it, frankly. Motorists routinely violate most traffic laws. AB 60 will increase penalties for motorists who do strike bicyclists, and that is a good thing. However, most drivers are unfamiliar with or unconscious of the details of the entire traffic code. They base their driving behavior on road conditions, traffic, prevailing speeds, visibility, and time considerations--not legislative mandates.
Sadly, California bicyclists have minimal strength and lobbying resources in the state capital. I would prefer that those limited resources be deployed in pursuit of greater state funding for bicycling, which could include street enhancements (complete streets), public awareness campaigns, bicycle safety education, safe routes to school and transit, and other programs to encourage bicycling. Nothing improves safety for bicyclists like the abundant presence of bicyclists.
Punitive legislation aimed at motorists is popular among some bicyclists; however it is unnecessarily antagonistic to the auto-lobby and generally yields minimal real improvement for cyclists. Funding for bicycling is a far greater and more important challenge. I would prefer the "bike lobby" not waste scarce resources on "feel good" bills that offer scant improvement.
Should California bicyclists support AB 60? Of course. Should we make it our top legislative priority? Absolutely not. Show me the money!
Individual bicyclists can do a great deal to improve their personal safety by riding effectively, using mirrors, and traveling on less busy streets. As a group, bicyclists gain more by working as advocates for streetscape improvement to better accommodate bicycling.
Image: Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton
See: Assemblymember Pedro Nava
See: California Bicycle Coalition
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site