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California enacts new bicycle safety law

California has passed a new three-foot buffer law to protect cyclists.

With its year-round good weather and miles of trails, Los Angeles is a popular city for bicycle lovers. However, the prevalence of cyclists on the road increases the likelihood of a bicycle accident with a car or other motor vehicle. Such accidents are the leading cause of bicyclist fatalities, responsible for killing 153 cyclists in 2012 alone, according to the California Highway Patrol. During the same year in Los Angeles County, approximately 5,000 cyclists were injured.

In order to guard against and reduce the number of bicycle accidents, a new law affecting the amount of clearance space that a motorist must give a cyclist has recently has gone into effect. The law, in effect since September 16, requires drivers to give at least three feet of clearance space when passing a cyclist, if the width of the street is sufficient to safely do this. However, in cases where it is not safe to give the required three feet (e.g. narrow roads or heavy traffic), drivers must slow to a reasonable speed and pass the bicycle only when doing so would not endanger the safety of the cyclist. In passing the law, California joins 23 other states that have a similar three-foot buffer law.

Drivers that violate the new law can be fined $35 or $220 if a collision occurs. Although this does not seem like much, once court costs are added, the financial penalty can be considerable. According to the Los Angeles Police Department, officers will likely initially issue warnings for violations as an educational measure. However, citations will be issued for incidents that endanger the cyclist.

What to do if injured

Although the law is laudable for its efforts to reduce bicycle accidents, it will not likely put an end to all accidents, especially in an era when many drivers are not paying attention to the task of driving due to cellphone use. Unfortunately for cyclists, when a car meets a bicycle, the risk of personal injury is very high, due to the difference in size and weight.

Because of this fact, those injured in bicycle accidents are likely to sustain very serious injures (i.e. broken bones and head and neck injuries) and need significant medical treatment and follow-up care as a result. Fortunately, such expensive costs may be recovered from the driver responsible for the accident under California law.

If you have been involved in a bicycle accident, it is important to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible. In many cases, insurance companies will try to pressure you into a quick settlement before the full extent of your injuries are known. An attorney can inform you of your recovery options and work to obtain full and fair compensation for your financial losses.

Our founding attorney, Scott J. Corwin, has more than 25 years of experience in representing accident victims injured in all forms of bicycle accidents, in the Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside, Orange, San Diego, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties and throughout the state of California.

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