The state Senate is voting Wednesday on a law that would require motorists to allow three feet of distance when passing cyclists, or at least slow to a safe speed when that safety cushion is not possible.

"We would be the 23rd state that has a law like this," said John Casey, chief of staff for Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Paramount. "And it is something that is needed. The current law is vague at best."

Lowenthal and state Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro, D-Arcata, co-authored the bill, Senate Bill 1464. It is expected to get final approval in the Senate Wednesday afternoon.

It addresses one of the the biggest fears that cyclists have, being rear-ended by passing motorists.

"They are unusual, being hit from behind, but they are the ones that frighten cyclists the most because being hit from behind tends to be a fatal," said Gary Helfrich, executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition.

The new law also would give law enforcement officers the ability to address a common form of cyclist harassment by motorists, called "buzzing," when drivers intentionally pass riders at a very close distance.

Casey said the current law requires only the motorist must pass at a safe distance, so there is no recourse by law enforcement unless the cyclist is hit.

"One of the main reasons parents don't let their children cycle is they don't believe it is safe," Casey said. "If there is a good enough education, hopefully more people will start cycling. And there are studies out there that the more people cycle, the safer it becomes; drivers become more aware that there are cyclists out there."

The new legislation also would allow motorists to cross double-yellow lines if necessary to safely pass cyclists, which is illegal under the current law.

The bill eliminates a provision that motorists pass at a speed no greater than 15 mph faster than the cyclist is traveling if there is not three feet of passing room.

That provision was cited by Gov. Jerry Brown as his reason for vetoing the bill last year and had caused the CHP, Caltrans and the American Automobile Association to oppose the bill.

You can reach Staff Writer Bob Norberg at 521-5206 or