Gov. Brown Vetoes Bicycle Safety Law – Again

Law Proposed By Long Beach State Senator Alan Lowenthal

By Joshua H. Silavent - Staff Writer

October 2, 2012 – For the second time in a year, Gov. Jerry Brown has vetoed a bill championed by State Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) that would have required motorists to give at least three feet of clearance when passing bicyclists in the same lane and same direction of travel – but for different reasons this time around.

In October 2011, Brown sent SB 910 back to the legislature after taking exception to a clause that required motorists to slow down to 15 mph if they cannot reasonably give three feet of clearance to bicyclists when passing. The California Highway Patrol and other groups said this provision could increase accidents.

So Lowenthal went back to the drawing board and adjusted the language of the bill.

The change, reflected in SB 1464, reads: “When drivers overtaking a bicyclist cannot give at least three feet of clearance, they must slow down to a speed that is reasonable and prudent given traffic and roadway conditions and only pass when it’s safe to do so.”

With this amendment, proponents thought the bill was a shoe-in for passage. But then Brown found something else not to like.

Both bills allowed for motorists on two-lane roads to cross a solid double yellow lane divider in order to give the necessary three feet of clearance.

Though Brown raised no objections to this clause last year, he cited it as his reason for vetoing the bill this year.

“Crossing a double yellow line is an inherently dangerous act that increases the risk of head-on collisions,” Brown wrote in a memo explaining his veto. “When a collision occurs, it will result in a lawsuit where the state is likely to be sued as a ‘deep pocket.’ By making it legal to cross a double yellow line, the bill weakens the state’s defense to these lawsuits. Caltrans proposed a solution to insulate the state from costly lawsuits while still providing the three-foot safety buffer for bicyclists. Unfortunately, the author declined to amend the bill.”

About 20 states have similar laws on the books, but California will have to wait at least another year before enacting its own. But with Lowenthal terming out in January, supporters like the California Bicycle Coalition will need a new author.

"I'm disappointed and left shaking my head,” Lowenthal said in a statement direct to the Business Journal. “I worked very hard over the past year to make sure that the bill met with everyone's approval, including addressing those issues cited by the governor in his veto message last year. Then, at the 11th hour, the governor decided to move the goal posts yet again with never-before heard concerns from some lawyers at Caltrans. It saddens me that this governor has chosen faceless bureaucrats over cyclists’ safety.”