Sunday, May 8, 2011

AAA position on SB910

Here's the AAA's explanation of why they oppose SB910, the bill which would require a 3-foot passing gap when motor vehicles pass cyclists.

Thank you for your inquiry relative to AAA's position on SB 910. Our official position is not a straight oppose, it is an 'oppose unless amended'. We don't take issue with the 3 foot distance rule when it can be safely accomplished. The problem is how to address situations when a 3 foot distance cannot be maintained or met.

Current language in the bill would require the vehicle to slow to 15 mph of the speed of the bicycle to pass. But this is problematic for several reasons, as pointed out in the bill analysis, the link for which you provided. Law enforcement has issues with this approach as well because it can cause a drastic decrease in speed differentials between the vehicle passing the bicycle and other vehicles on the road depending on the posted speed limit. Not only can this cause rear-end collisions, and create a more dangerous situation for the cyclists. It is the differences in speed that is the number one cause of car crashes. Another suggested approach is to require the car to enter into the opposite lane of traffic (cross a double line) in order to give the cyclists the 3 foot distance. This is something being explored as well as a number of other ideas.

While we can all agree on the concept and goal SB 910, crafting workable legislation usually requires addressing a number of details and issues that arise throughout the process as the concept is flushed out and enforceability is addressed. The author of the bill, Senator Lowenthal, is committed to working with all interested parties, including law enforcement, AAA and the bicycle coalition sponsors of the bill to find the most appropriate and safest way to address situations when the general rule to allow a 3 foot distance cannot be met due to road design. We have to determine what the law should be in those circumstances and there is some disagreement on that level. Thank you again for allowing us to explain our position on the bill.

Paula LaBrie
Legislative Counsel
AAA Northern California, Nevada & Utah
Office (916) 443-2577

I generally agree with the letter of Paula's points. However, the mention of "enforceability" is troublesome. As I've already pointed out here, no law is going to be perfectly enforceable, so to hold this bill to a standard of unambiguous enforceability is overly restrictive.

Additionally, the comment that the sponsors of the bill need to "find the most appropriate and safest way to address situations when the general rule to allow a 3 foot distance cannot be met due to road design" is just plain scary. I have the solution to this problem: if the roadway does not allow a pass with a three foot margin then the roadway does not allow a safe pass and the driver must wait until it is safe to pass. The bill is premised on the assertion passing with less than a 3-foot margin is inherently unsafe, at least when the vehicle is going at least a certain speed (for example 15 mph). Therefore making exceptions to a 3-foot passing margin based on the context of road design is equivalent to making exception to a safe passing requirement, and there is no exception made to the safe passing requirement. This bill changes nothing unless you think passing with less than a 3-foot margin can be done safely.

So I wish the question would be put to anyone taking positions against the bill: "do you think passing with less than a 3 foot buffer can be safe?" Unless the answer is yes, spoken with a straight face, there is no longer any margin for debate.


Jim Brown said...

Bravo! Thanks for your support! I've posted a link at, our SB 910 campaign site.

Safe travels!

Jim Brown
Communications Director
California Bicycle Coalition

djconnel said...

Thanks, Jim! Any update?