Tuesday, June 1, 2010

We can prevent bicyclists from being run over

Updated: this post has a link to the police report.

We all await the release of more details from the police report, but in the meantime, a possible -- indeed likely -- scenario emerges: motor vehicle traffic was moving slowly, the bicyclist was passing the slow and stopped traffic on the right, the motorist had not passed the bicyclist so was unaware of him, she turned right into a driveway just as he was passing.

If that's the case, there is reason to be frustrated that the driver has not been cited. Under Massachusetts law, bicyclists, unlike motor vehicles, have the right to pass slower traffic on the right (MGL ch. 85, sec. 11B). That right is meaningless if it does not create in motorists a corresponding duty not to drive into bikes passing on the right. It's disturbing that the investigating officer felt that "a reasonable and prudent person would not be expecting someone on their right." A reasonable and prudent person, aware of MGL ch. 85, sec. 11B, ought to be thinking that a bike might be passing.

So, assuming facts are not radically different than the scenario outlined, bike activists should hope that the Newton Police Department rethinks the conclusion here and determines that a citation is in order. It's right on the merits. And, it sends the right message to motorists and bicyclists.

But, let's not overstate the impact of that message. People are not going to be more careful because running over a biker might end up putting points on their license. It's probably safe to assume that most drivers want to avoid driving over bicyclists in the first place. Whether or not it's going to result in a ticket has got to be a remote, secondary consideration.

One hopes the news that a not-careful-enough driver ran over a bicyclist will make folks in Newton look a little more carefully before turning right (and make bicyclists a little more cautious passing traffic on the right). But, the story will eventually recede as a behavior changing event. The best cure for the problem is more bikers. A regular parade of bicyclists on a driver's trip is the best reminder that the streets are shared and to be vigilant and cautious.

After all, you could run over one of them. Or worse, run over one and get a ticket.

1 comment:

Andrew Oakland said...

I think that the best cure for the problem of motorist v. cyclist collisions is strict liability, where the motorist is assumed at fault until proven otherwise. This has worked in Denmark and The Netherlands to drastically reduce car v. bike collisions.