Sunday, May 1, 2011

SB910: bill analysis

A legislative analysis of SB910, the 3-foot passing rule for drivers passing cyclists, is here. Last time I noted that the AAA, an organization which opposes virtually all initiatives to improves cyclist rights, infrastructure, or safety, is the sole listed opponent.

Excerpts from comments from the analysis, and my response:

Enforcability.... How can either (the driver or a police officer) be sure that the driver is not 3 feet, 3 inches away rather than 2 feet, 9 inches?

This argument could strike down almost any law in the vehicle code. If the speed limit is 65, how can I be sure I'm going 64 mph and not 66 mph? If the law required headlights after dusk, how can I be sure it's one minute before dusk and not one minute after dusk? Obviously enforcement carries a burden of proof, and behavior requires a margin for uncertainty. So while 2 feet 9 inches may be questionable, 1 foot 0 inches does not. And it's the really close calls which we care about. Ironically, this very comment justifies the need for the law. If a driver can't judge his distance from a cyclist, then obviously passing margins closer than 3 feet are unsafe.

Is three feet always "safe ?" By defining safe distance as three feet, this bill resupposes that three feet is always a safe distance.

This comment exhibits profound ignorance of the principles of the vehicle code. If the speed limit on a road is 45 mph, that does not mean it's always safe to drive 45 mph everywhere on that road. This argument is so flawed, so twisted, that I immediately question the partiality of Jennifer Gress, the analyst.

The committee may wish to consider an amendment to delete the 15 mph (speed differential) provision from the bill.

Here we completely agree. Change it to an absolute speed instead of a differential speed and I am okay with it to handle the shuffle which occurs at intersections. But the 15 mph speed differential component of the bill is bizarre.

I include the full comment on the crossing the double yellow line provision:

Crossing double solid lines . Double solid lines are put in place when traffic engineers determine that characteristics of the roadway make it unsafe to pass. Does allowing a vehicle to cross these lines create an unsafe driving situation? The author argues that a bicycle is moving much slower and requires less clearance than another motor vehicle and thus would not pose the same risk. Others argue that crossing double solid lines when passing a bicyclist is already a matter of practice for some motorists.

Yesterday I rode along Highway 1 north of Stinson Beach, a 2-lane section with relatively light traffic, good sight lines, narrow shoulders, and a double yellow line. I was passed by several cars, each one crossing the double yellow without the slightest issue. Had a car attempted to pass without crossing the double yellow it would have been unsafe: the passing margin too small.

The double yellow is put in where it is unsafe to pass another car, a maneuver which requires moving fully to the opposite lane and accelerating to a speed significantly faster than car travel speeds. Crossing a double yellow while passing a cyclist requires overlapping the opposite lane by at most the passing margin, presumably 4 feet or so. The two actions are of a completely different class. Sure, we could define 3 sets of road markings: dashed for passing anyone, solid for passing nobody, or a special marking for passing cyclists, pedestrians, and equestrians but not cars. But this of course gets silly. The law relies on driver judgement for when it is safe to cross the double yellow for passing cyclists. Driver judgement is used all the time: for example in judging when it is safe to pass with a dashed yellow line. "Some motorists?" Virtually all, at least 98%, of drivers cross the double yellow in these circumstances. Codifying the typical practice, obviously safe by the standards of vehicular behavior, only makes sense and opponents pulling the safety card on this one is nothing short of hysteria.

Passing on the left only ?

This is an excellent point, and one I had noticed as well. When the cyclist is on the left preparing to turn left, obviously cars need to be able to pass on the right.


Bill said...

I wrote most of this bill, and agree with most of your comments. Keep up the good discussion. Take a look at my webpage about this bill for more info:

The CBC and City of LA jumped onboard this bill after I wrote it, got the legislative author and discussed difficult conditions, like narrow roads and trucks passing at an appropriate speed differential.
Many provisions have been removed in compromise discussions, such as $2000 fines if the vehicle actually hits the rider (in Oregon it is over $6000), and establishing 'gross negligence' of drivers who hit riders.

Overall we have a winning simple bill, that could have the 15mph provision removed. It was placed before we got support for crossing the double solid lines, and was useful for wide trucks on narrow roads.

Remember all our dead rider friends as we move this bill ahead, as they cannot represent their story. Most if us are somewhat lucky to be here still also, partially because this call for respectful driving was not put forward in the vehicle codes.
Ride on safely, Bill Wright Burton

djconnel said...

Thanks, Bill, for the great work!

The simple question I would ask anyone who opposes the bill is : "So you think it is ever safe to pass a cyclist driving more than 15 mph with less than a 3 foot margin?"

If the answer is no, then this bill changes nothing, and there can be no opposition.

If the answer is yes, I suggest a road test. Surely you have a bicycle they can borrow.