A cyclist makes his way down Ocean Park Boulevard. (File photo)

CITYWIDE — A new law requiring a three foot buffer zone between cars and bicycles is now in effect statewide and local officials said they are using the law as a chance to educate residents on safe road use.

Governor Brown signed AB1371 into law on Sept. 23. It requires drivers to maintain three feet of separation from bicycles and if conditions make that spacing impossible, drivers are required to slow to a speed that is “reasonable and prudent” and only pass when the cyclist is not in danger. The law carries a $35 fine for violating the buffer zone and drivers who injure a bicycle rider while violating the law can be fined $220.

Cynthia Rose is Director of Santa Monica Spoke, the local chapter of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. She said the new rules clarify existing laws that stated cars could pass at a “safe distance” and provides specific guidance for car/bicycle interactions.

“It was always mandated that drivers could not pass unless it’s safe to do so and now that’s been identified a minimum of three feet,” she said. “It’s really only a strengthening the rules, it’s a clarification of the law that already existed.”

Officer Peter Lashley with the Santa Monica Police Department’s Traffic division said officers have been trained on the new law.

“As with any new legislation, there will be a learning curve as drivers become aware of the new requirements,” he said. “Our hope is this legislation will have the desired effect and facilitate a safer environment as motorists and cyclists share the roads of Santa Monica.”

Lashley said officers will enforce the law as part of their ongoing efforts to keep the roads safe and Rose said she hoped the law’s effect would be as educational as it is punitive.

“One of the largest points is that it’s going to be good for safety on our roads,” she said. “This is a great opportunity for education of motorists and bicyclists. I think we need to look at it in that eye as well as the enforcement issue.”

According to the DMV bicycle riders on public roads have the same rights and responsibilities as motorists, and are subject to the same rules and regulations. The DMV said motorists must look carefully for bicyclists before turning left or right, merging into bicycle lanes, and opening doors next to moving traffic.

Lashley said awareness is the key to preventing crashes and that if everyone remains alert while on the road, everyone should be safer.

“Open car doors carefully and check for cyclist approaching your vehicle,” he said of good driver behavior. “Slow your vehicle as you pass a cyclist. A slower speed gives drivers more time to react to unforeseen hazards. Obey all traffic laws. This applies to all who share the roadways. By facilitating a safe efficient flow of traffic and promoting predictable driving behavior motorists, cyclists and pedestrians can efficiently share the roadway and not be surprised by erratic or illegal driving behavior.”

For more information visitwww.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/brochures/fast_facts/ffdl37.htm,

www.dmv.ca.gov/coi/bicycle/bicycle.htm, orwww.smspoke.org/edu.

matt@www.smdp.com

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