A new California law requires drivers passing cyclists maintain a 3-foot-buffer, defining what had been a vague and dangerous law that only called for a "safe distance." It specifically applies to motorists passing people on bikes from behind.

The Three Feet for Safety Act, which goes into effect today, is similar to existing laws in 24 other states, the Contra Costa Times reports.

The law states that motorists either give cyclists 3 feet of clearance or slow down to the point to ensure safety. The California Highway Patrol tells the Chron: "Vehicles are required to slow down or give 3 feet, and bike riders are encouraged to ride as safely as possible," spokesman Mike Harris said. If a bicyclist swerves toward a driver or weaves between cars, Harris said those types of circumstances will be considered when deciding whether to issue a citation.

The fine for drivers who squeeze or whizz by cyclists starts at $233 (including court and administrative fees), but if there's a collision and a bicyclist is injured, the fine becomes $959 with fees.

In 2012, the CHP reports that 153 bicyclists were killed from collisions with motor vehicles in California, which was up 7 percent from 2011.

The California Bicycle Coalition, which pushed for the law, has published a handy FAQ about it on its website. Executive Director Dave Snyder says the law will enforce what drivers should already be doing.

"It doesn't really change what drivers are already supposed to do," Snyder said. "But we think that by specifying the distance of 3 feet, drivers will be a little more patient and be safer in passing."

Snyder's team is working with the CHP and Caltrans on a sign campaign that promotes the new law.

[Contra Costa Times]