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Friday, December 5, 2014

Cyclist Confronts Driver Over Three-Foot Law (VIDEO)

Posted By on Fri, Dec 5, 2014 at 3:32 PM

click to enlarge spokesman.jpg

Check out this video that was recently posted on Youtube which shows a driver (who is possibly a local firefighter) blasting past a cyclist a little too close for comfort.

According to cyclist and YouTube user derekhigh, the driver was violating the newly enacted three-feet law, which is exactly what it says: drivers must keep within three feet of cyclists on the roads. 

So what does this video tell us about the three-foot law that has been in effect more than two months? Perhaps you'd say that two months is enough time for the widely publicized update to the California legal code to sink into the brains of drivers across the state. Maybe it has sunk in, but drivers don't care. Or maybe drivers in general don't have the spatiotemporal coordination to keep three feet from a cyclist when passing. 

I’ll give the alleged firefighter the benefit of the doubt; perhaps he had to go fight fires. But the issue remains that there’s no reasonable way for the police to actually enforce this tricky law, unless it results in an accident. Even then, it’s bound to be the driver's word against the cyclist’s – or maybe dashcam vs. handlebarcam? In other words, the law seems more like a symbolic gesture than anything. I contacted the SFPD to find out if how many citations had been issued since the law went into effect, but they are not yet available.

"The video only shows a part of the total incident. It's hard to know if three-foot violation occurred without measuring it, however it does appear that the vehicle is very close in proximity to the bicyclist," said SFPD Officer Albie Esparza. "This is a traffic infraction and if an officer were to observe violations, they may take enforcement action appropriately."

But would it change driver behavior on the road? From my experience, things are still the same; drivers who always crossed the center line to give cyclists space still do, and the drivers who wait until there’s space to pass still do. Drivers who buzz by me a foot away from my handlebars still do it everyday. The best thing the law does for cyclists is give them legal ground when they’ve been hit by a car. Before this law was in effect it was possible to hit a cyclist without breaking any laws.

Furthermore, this law is seemingly moot since streets still aren’t designed with this a three-foot space zone in mind. To quote Matts-Åke Belin, a Swedish safety strategist, who spoke with Sarah Goodyear of Citylab this week: “If we can create a system where people are safe, why shouldn’t we? Why should we put the whole responsibility on the individual road user, when we know they will talk on their phones, they will do lots of things that we might not be happy about? So let’s try to build a more human-friendly system instead.”

The three-foot law, for all the good it can do, still doesn’t help people help themselves. That is, it still puts the whole responsibility on the individual driver to preserve the safe buffer between their vehicle and the cyclist. If that responsibility fell to a design element, such as a barrier, it would not be subject to human error.

If nothing else, the new law should at least make it clear that cyclists can legally ride on the road. If you need to catch up on the law, and how it's good for cyclists, even if it's difficult to enforce, then check out this breakdown from On My Bike in LA:

But for what it's worth, Esparza says that you should not go vigilante as this cyclist did above: "A pedestrian, motorist or bicyclist should not confront anyone, because to be blunt, you don't know who you are dealing with and could escalate a situation unnecessarily. "

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About The Author

Leif Haven

Leif Haven

Leif Haven is a writer and cyclist living in the Bay Area. He can be spotted dragging himself up a hill — literally and metaphorically.

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