Assemblyman Pedro Nava is peddling his way through an uphill battle to pass a new bicycle safety law in response to last year’s death of UCSB student Kendra Payne.
Nava, the newly appointed chair of the assembly transportation committee, proposed a bill to the state legislature in early December that would force all motor vehicles to remain three feet from cyclists while passing. Nava originally penned the bill after UCSB triathlete Kendra Payne was struck and killed by a truck driver on a narrow Goleta road.
“I think a law that forces drivers and bicyclists to pay more attention to roadway safety will save lives,” Nava said.
The assemblyman proposed the law earlier in 2006, but it never made it out of committee. Since then, Nava said bicycle safety has become a bigger issue in transportation matters. Currently, California state law does not have a requirement for an exact distance motorists must maintain from bicycles – only specifying that it should be a safe distance.
“I think what has changed is that the whole issue of bike safety is being talked about more,” Nava said. “I think last year when I introduced the bill the bicycle rider groups were not aware of it.”
Nava’s bill sets a minimum $250 fine for violators of the proposed law, but this amount could increase depending on local fees.
The number of bicyclists injured by motorists has increased nationwide by nearly 25 percent since 2003, and in California 133 cyclists were killed in motor vehicle collisions in 2005. While acknowledging the problem, many critics say the bill lacks reasonable enforcement powers.
Meanwhile, the Teamsters Association has opposed the bill, saying that motorists who give extra room will be in danger of hitting on-coming traffic, especially if they are driving on narrow roads or roads with other vehicles stopped or slowing in turning lanes. A representative from the Teamsters Association did not respond to numerous phone calls.
Nava has countered his opponents, arguing that drivers need to be more conscious of avoiding riders, and will comply if the law defines the required space – i.e. three feet – at which they may pass.
“If you were driving down the street in your car and you saw a baby carriage on the side of the road, you would slow down and make room,” Nava said. “I don’t see how a bicyclist is any different.”
The bill has already undergone changes in the Transportation Committee. Previously, the legislation allowed drivers to cross over into turn lanes in order to avoid bikers, a major change to California traffic law. The committee discussed and removed this aspect of the bill.