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New law protects bicyclists

By Chris Owens
On October 1, 2013

Around this time next year cyclists riding down roads like Petaluma Hill, and Stony Point will be breathing a little easier. No longer will they have to feel the gusting winds of a passing automobile steer their bicycles off track. The state government has signed into law a new bill that will require motorists to give at least a three-foot perimeter when passing bicyclists on roads that don't mark a bicycle lane.
Authored by Assemblyman Steven Bradford, the law requires that drivers not only abide by the "three foot rule," but cannot pass over the double yellow line in order to do so. This means drivers will have to remain at slow speeds like 15 miles per hour to successfully pass cyclists if they are closer than three feet.
Although Governor Jerry Brown signed the legislation, he has expressed worry over the possibility of increased collisions involving multiple automobiles.
 "Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol have raised legitimate concerns about other provisions such as the 15 MPH requirement," said Brown in a message after is veto of Senate Bill 910, the original version of the law, in 2011. "On streets with speed limits of 35 or 40 MPH, slowing to 15 MPH to pass a bicycle could cause rear end collisions. On other roads, a bicycle may travel at or near 15 MPH creating a long line of cars behind the cyclists."
Last year, SSU Professor Steve Norwick was hit  and killed by a truck while riding his bicycle on Petaluma Hill Road around 4 p.m.
According to an interview with Mercury News, the man who struck Norwick had assumed that he was uninjured after the collision, but spoke to police officers shortly after the incident had occurred. Norwick taught at SSU for 40 years and retired shortly before his death.
According to a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2011, 30 percent of bicycle accidents that have occurred in California were between 4 p.m. and 7:59 p.m. This time also held the highest percentages compared to other times of day.
"Even with my bicycle light on, the woman who hit me did not even notice I was out there," said 20-year-old Justin Williams. "If I have to obey the laws with my light and hand signals, I don't see or understand why drivers cannot respect us by obeying their laws."
Williams was riding his bike on Commerce Boulevard when he was struck, and had to watch his bike be dragged away by the car who hit him. Fortunately his injuries were only minor.
The new law states that anyone who does not abide by its rules will initially receive a fine of $35, providing no one gets injured. If someone gets injured, the base fine starts at $220, but could balloon up to $959 depending on the condition of the injured cyclist, the speed the motorist was going, and the weather conditions.  
In the study "Total Fatalities and Pedalcyclist Fatalities in Traffic Crashes, 2002-2011," over 6,900 people nationwide died as a result of being a bicyclist struck by an automobile.
"On two-way roads like Highway 12 we constantly end up at scenes involving cyclists and automobiles," said California Highway Patrol Officer John Perez. "This law was created to have an increased awareness of cyclists on the road. It's all about making sure everyone gets home safe."
The law will go into effect beginning in September 2014.

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