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How does the three-foot rule apply when there are already bike lanes in place?

CrimeBeat Q&A is a weekly feature where police reporter Julie Johnson answers readers' questions about local crimes and the law.

How does the 3-foot rule apply when there are already bike lanes in place? What if the rider chooses to ride in tandem or at the very outside edge of the bike lane? Are drivers supposed to give them an additional three feet of space or does a bike lane somehow address that?

Keith Rhinehart, Santa Rosa

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The Three Feet for Safety Act, which became law in 2014, states that 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 presence of paint on the road, including the left-hand line of a bicycle lane, doesn't change that legal requirement to maintain a 3-foot buffer, which is about the length of a car door.

“Three feet is not a lot of space,” said Petaluma Police Sgt. Ron Klein, who runs the traffic unit. “You would never want to be closer to a bicycle than that.”

Drivers may make exception to the rule on narrow lanes, however the law stresses that motorists practice caution if attempting to pass, slow down and “pass only when doing so would not endanger the safety of the operator of the bicycle.”

Klein warned that bicycle lanes, much like crosswalks, can give people a false sense of security.

A cyclist was hit by a car and injured about two weeks ago in Petaluma after he rode into a crosswalk on East Washington Street at Edith Street. The investigator determined the cyclist entered the roadway without checking for oncoming traffic and was at fault, Klein said.

“You have to be really vigilant when you're on a bike,” Klein said. “You must adhere to all the rules of the road.”

Submit your questions about crime, safety and criminal justice to Staff Writer Julie Johnson at julie.johnson@pressde mocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.

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