When news broke of the 5/27 accident on Comm. Ave., where a biker was literally run over when a driver made an abrupt right turn, the police reported that "[t]he cyclist’s actions, which were confirmed by his own statements, contributed to the crash" and, therefore, the driver was not cited. What were the statements? What were those actions? What unusual behavior brought this on himself?
Now that the police report is public, we know. Here is the full text of the relevant portion of the police report:
MR. GUBBELS STATED THAT HE WAS BICYCLING EAST BOUND ON THE SHOULDER OF THE ROAD AT APPROXIMATELY 15MPH. MR. GUBBELS STATED THAT TRAFFIC WAS MOVING VERY SLOWLY AND/OR STOPPED AND HE WAS PASSING ALL OF THE SLOW MOVING TRAFFIC ON THE RIGHT. MR. GUBBELS STATED THAT THE RED TOYOTA MA REG #49HJ33 UNEXPECTEDLY PULLED ABRUPTLY TO THE RIGHT CAUSING MR. GUBBELS TO STRIKE THE VEHICLE AND AS HE FELL HE BECAME STUCK UNDER THE VEHICLE. MR. GUBBELS STATED THAT HE DIDN'T REMEMBER MUCH AFTER THE CRASH OCCURED AND HE WAS NOT SURE WHETHER OR NOT THE OPERATOR OF THE TOYOTA SIGNALLED BEFORE MOVING TO THE RIGHT.
His contribution to the crash -- the contribution that let the driver "in a hurry" who "unexpectedly swerved," "abruptly swerve[d]," made "a sudden move to the right" off the hook -- was to exercise his right under MGL ch. 85, sec 11B to pass slower moving traffic on the right. It appears there's nothing more or less to the story. According to the off-duty police officer who witnessed the incident then helped lift the car off of the cyclist "the bicyclist appeared to be travelling at a reasonable rate of speed, and also in a straight line." (Quotations are from the police report and may or may not be direct quotations from the witnesses.)
It boils down to is this: can a cyclist passing slower traffic to the right expect that motorists will look for him before turning across his path? Or, as bike advocate John Allen suggests, does MGL ch. 85, sec. 11B simply make it legal to pass on the right, but you do so at your own risk?
In the end, as I wrote earlier, legal liability is probably a minor factor in actual decision-making. Drivers are not going to take more care to avoid a ticket, but to avoid inadvertently killing someone.
But, the law ought to reflect what policy we want to promote and the values that we hold. We want to encourage people to ride, particularly those who are not as comfortable riding in traffic. The blah-blah litany: fossil fuel-independent, less-polluting, less-carbon generating, quieter, healthier, more neighborhood-friendly. We want to encourage people who drive to make it safe and comfortable to ride on our streets. It's really not that much to ask those piloting ton-plus* vehicles to recognize that even the basic action of turning into a driveway has potentially lethal consequence.
Ultimately, the best cure is more bikes on the road. In the meantime, it would send an important message that it is not reasonable and prudent to drive without looking for cyclists.
*Fortunately, the car involved in this accident was a Toyota Corolla, way down on the lighter-end of the spectrum at about 2,400 lbs. Many popular cars are closer to or over two tons: Toyota Camry -- 3,200 lbs., Honda Odyssey -- 4,300 lbs., Chevy Equinox -- 3,700 lbs.