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Uber’s Interpretation of ‘3 Feet’ Law Conflicts With Reality

For almost a decade, California law has stated that vehicle drivers must take certain precautions to enhance safety for the growing number of cyclists on the state’s streets, but those rules still remain up for debate by some, in particular Uber, who believe cyclists should bear the responsibility for dodging reckless drivers that put them at risk. 

One major example of this is the “Three Feet For Safety” Law, which states that “a driver of a motor vehicle shall not overtake or pass a bicycle proceeding in the same direction on a highway at a distance of less than three feet between any part of the motor vehicle and any part of the bicycle or its operator.” 

The reason for this is relatively simple: it keeps everybody on the road safe, especially as the number of cyclists has been increasing significantly in the last two decades. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition noted that from 2006 up until the legislation passed in 2014, cycling had increased by 96% in the Bay Area.

“This new law is just one more way to ensure the growing bicycling community is safe on our streets, whether that is on rural roads or city streets,” the organization said upon the law’s passage.

California became the 24th state to pass such a rule, highlighting how common it is around the country to create room for cyclists on the road. Still, that’s not always the case, especially as ride-sharing apps and services have become more common in urban areas and put more drivers on the road who disregard the law. 

However, Uber has taken the position that the law requires a cyclist to keep their bicycles at least three feet away from motor vehicles.

Uber’s Position On California’s Three-Foot Law

In an ongoing lawsuit between Bay Area Bicycle Law and Uber, Uber’s “traffic safety expert” even went as far as to testify under oath that their position is that the California’s three-feet law applies to cyclists equally as it does to drivers and that cyclists must keep three feet away from a car when the car is passing a cyclist. 

In the case, a cyclist was hit by a vehicle being driven by an Uber driver. In a deposition, Uber’s expert said cyclists should keep at least three feet from a vehicle, if not more, to avoid crashes and doorings. “If he would have, we might not have been in this situation,” the expert said of the cyclist who was rightfully traveling a local street before being passed by an Uber car.

Uber’s interpretation is in direct conflict with the wording of the legislation. While it’s true that cyclists mostly have to abide by the same traffic laws as vehicle drivers do, the three-feet law makes it clear that the rule applies to a driver of a “motor” vehicle when they are in the process of passing specifically a “bicycle proceeding in the same direction.”

Just last year, lawmakers even went in to revise the law with Assembly Bill 1909 because it was notoriously difficult to enforce. Now, instead of requiring cars to keep three feet from cyclists, the law requires drivers to completely switch lanes when available. 

Cycling safety advocates say the extra margin written into the new law will reduce near misses and collisions, as well as provide more clarity for vehicle drivers on how to react when approaching a cyclist. They’ll no longer have to judge themselves what three feet is.

Timothy Weisberg, a spokesperson for the California Office of Traffic Safety, told a local newspaper that requiring the drivers to create extra space reduces “conflict points and risk of near misses or crashes” and “when a road user does make a mistake, there is a wider safety buffer that could reduce the chance of a serious injury.”

Still, in 2023, it is clear that the revised rule is applicable to vehicles that are passing a bicycle, contrary to Uber’s current position in the current lawsuit.