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California bikin’ on such an autumn day

In an accident between a car or truck and a bicycle, chances are that the bicycle will lose. The motor vehicle is heavier and faster, and it has four wheels (or more). Bikes may be more maneuverable, able to respond quickly to avoid a collision, but they haven’t the bulk of a car, and they are more likely to topple in an accident or even while trying to avoid an accident. Still, even if there is no impact, there is still a risk to life and limb.

The state of California has adopted a number of laws to make the roads safer for bikers. For example, riders under age 18 must wear helmets. Another law dictated that motorists reduce their speed and pass bikers at a “safe distance.”

In fact, the passing law changed in September. The safe distance, or buffer, is now defined as three feet, and motorists risk a ticket and a fine if they get any closer.

Biking in this state is a popular pastime, but it is also a popular mode of transportation. In its 2014 “Benchmarking Report,” the Alliance for Bicycling & Walking puts California in 19th place among the 50 states and the District of Columbia for the percentage of commuters who bike or walk to work. Of the 52 major metro areas in the study, San Francisco placed third. Considering the health and environmental benefits of these “alternative” modes of transportation, it is disconcerting to note that only 3.8 percent of California’s commuters walk to work and a mere 1 percent bike.

But 3.6 percent of the state’s traffic fatalities are bicyclists, an average of about 104 people a year or 6.3 deaths per 10,000 bicycling commuters. In state ranking, that puts us at 33rd. Just for reference, we rank third when it comes to pedestrians: 20.9 percent of the state’s traffic fatalities are walkers.

How can we improve those numbers? We’ll discuss that in our next post.


Sacramento Bee, “New California law requires 3 feet between cars, bicycles,” Sept. 16, 2014

Alliance for Biking & Walking, “Bicycling and walking in the United States: 2014 Benchmarking Report,” Sept. 23, 2014

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