A bill has been sent to Gov. Jerry Brown's desk that would require motorists to keep three feet of distance when passing cyclists and to 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 state Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Paramount. "And it is something that is needed. The current law is vague at best."

The bill received final approval by the state Senate in a 28-4 vote Wednesday evening. The bill previously was approved by both the Senate and Assembly.

Lowenthal and Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro, D-Arcata, introduced the bill, Senate Bill 1464. It addresses the biggest fear that most cyclists have -- that of 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 police the ability to address one of the most common forms of harassment of cyclists by motorists, called "buzzing," when drivers intentionally pass riders at a close distance.

Casey said the current law requires only that a motorist pass at a safe distance, so there is no recourse by police 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 cycling, the safer it becomes. Drivers become more aware that there are cyclists out there."

The new legislation would allow motorists to cross double-yellow lines if necessary to safely pass cyclists, which currently is illegal.

A similar bill was vetoed last year by Brown, but the new bill eliminates a provision that Brown had opposed.

In the old bill, motorists were required to pass at a speed no greater than 15 mph faster than the cyclist if there was not three feet of passing room.

That provision was replaced by one that requires passing at a safe speed.

You can reach Staff Writer Bob Norberg at 521-5206 or bob.norberg@pressdemocrat.com.