A Push For Cyclist Safety: The Three Feet Safety Act

Sep 20, 2017

As cyclists in Southern California, we are all aware of the law mandating that drivers give us at least three feet of space when passing.  However, many drivers seem to be unaware or unconcerned about the rule.

There is not a single day out on my bike that a motorist doesn’t pass me unsafely; giving me much less than the minimum three feet required.  In most cases, it seems to be done by inattention as I routinely see drivers staring at their phones, tending to children in the car, or being otherwise distracted.

However, at times, it’s done with aggression evidenced by the revving of an engine or them accelerating past me. I suspect many don’t know or understand the passing law but, of course, there are others that do and just don’t care.  

The result is a dangerous situation on our roads in which cyclists are the most vulnerable. So the question is, why aren’t drivers following the law?

We Need Education and Enforcement

There are bicycle advocacy groups and transportation authorities that have done a great job at promoting this law and getting the word out there, so the problem seems to lie with enforcement.  I can’t answer whether all agencies are enforcing it, but I can give you a sampling which may serve as an accurate barometer.   

The City of Irvine touts itself as a bicycle-friendly city, and by all accounts, it’s infrastructure supports this claim.  There are miles and miles of Class I and II bike lanes.  Trust me; these are the good ones.  So, surely, Irvine should be a leader in enforcing this law, right?

The Three Feet for Safety Act became effective on September 16, 2014, with the enactment of California Vehicle Section 21760.  From the law’s effective date through April 1, 2017, the City of Irvine Police Department issued only two citations for violations, both back in 2015.  

Dismal, I know.  

Lackluster Support by Some Legislators

Why isn’t their much enforcement? The cause may be higher up on the chain. Out of the 80 legislators in the California Assembly, 54 voted to support the law, and 24 voted against it. (There were two that did not vote for whatever reason.)  

Interestingly, the current mayor of Irvine, Donald Wagner, represented Irvine in the California Assembly when this law was passed. He was one of the 24 who voted no, opposing the law.  Why did the assemblyman and the now current mayor of Irvine, touted as one the most bike-friendly cities in California, vote no?  Only he can answer that, and maybe it’s time to ask him.

Along with Mr. Wagner, legislators representing Laguna Beach, Huntington Beach, Seal Beach, Newport Beach, Laguna Niguel, Dana Point, and San Juan Capistrano also voted no.

The bottom line is, without strong and obvious support from our own lawmakers and enforcement agencies, this important law isn’t doing any good. We must contact our city leaders and ask them to make a change.


Take Action for a Safer Community

  1. Make Contact– I encourage you to contact your respective city’s leadership, as well as elected officials, and express your concern for the effectiveness of the law. Here are several contacts you can reach out to:

California, Board of Supervisors, https://board.ocgov.com/

Irvine City Manager’s Office, Sean Joyce, phone: (949) 0724-6246 or email: cm@cityofirvine.org

Irvine City Council, phone: (949) 724-6233, or email: irvinecitycouncil@cityofirvine.org

Huntington Beach Manager’s Office, Fred Wilson, phone: (714) 536-5202

Huntington Beach City Council, phone: (714) 536-5553

Newport Beach Mayor, phone: (949) 644-3004

Newport Beach City Council Members, email: citycouncil@newportbeachca.gov

Laguna Beach Mayor, Toni Iseman, phone: (949) 494-7648, or email: tiseman@lagunabeachcity.net

Laguna Beach City Council Members, phone: (949) 497-3311, or email: CityCouncil@lagunabeachcity.net

Seal Beach Mayor, Sandra Massa-Lavitt, phone: (562) 431-2527 x1505, or email: smassalavitt@sealbeachca.gov

Seal Beach City Staff, email: https://www.sealbeachca.gov/Government/Contact-City-Staff

San Juan Capistrano City Manager, Benjamin Siegel, phone: (949) 493-1171, or email:

San Juan Capistrano City Council, phone: (949) 443-6315, or email: lstigall@sanjuancapistrano.org

  1. Recommend More Enforcement- Recommend that police officers and deputies help with selective enforcement on popular cycling routes at peak times.
  2. Recommend More Education– Recommend an increase in education about the law by including it in their community publications.  For example, The City of Irvine recently published the Fall edition of ‘Inside Irvine’ which includes a great article and promotional piece on bicycle commuting.  This would have been a great place to include information regarding the passing law.

Let’s band together and make a difference. Until next time, be safe out there and enjoy the ride!

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