New Bike Laws in Massachusetts



New Bike Laws in Massachusetts

Back in January, Massachusetts passed new bicycle laws that should help to better protect cyclists.  The MassBike website does an excellent job of summarizing the new laws, which among other things:

  1. Making “dooring” a ticketable offense
  2. Requiring motorists to stay a safe distance to the left of cyclists and, when passing, to return to the right only when they have safely passed the cyclist
  3. If the lane is too narrow to pass a bicycle at a safe distance, while remaining in the lane, then they must use another lane to pass
  4. Prohibiting motorists from taking an abrupt right turn after passing a cyclist
  5. Motorists must yield to bicycles when turning left
  6. Motorists Liable for Hitting Bicyclists Riding to the Right.  Bicycles, unlike other vehicles, are permitted to ride to the right of other traffic (e.g., on the shoulder), and motorists are not permitted to use this fact as a legal defense for causing a crash with a bicyclist.

In addition,

police recruits are now required to receive training on the bicycle-related laws, bicyclist injuries, dangerous behavior by bicyclists, motorists actions that cause bicycle crashes, and motorists intentionally endangering bicyclists.

At the same time, the law also eliminates the need for individual towns and cities to implement spcecific laws on how cyclists are ticketed for violating traffic laws.  Now, they have adopted the same procedure as police use for motor vehicles.  According to a WickedLocal article, earlier this month Newton Massachusetts police wrote their first citiation for a cyclist who apparently ran a read light.

“The cyclist was struck by a vehicle who had a green light. The car was not speeding and it was not their fault,” said Lt. Bruce Apotheker. “The cyclist admitted that he shouldn’t have gone through the red light. Officer Charles Edrehi issued a citation to the cyclist for failure to stop for a red light.”

I know this issue will draw mixed opinions from you cyclists, so let’s hear it.

Personally, I’m okay with police enforcing traffic laws for cyclists.  However, with this increased enforcement better come some honest respect on the part of the law, the motoring community, and RIDOT.  How such enforcement would be enacted is still a huge question in my mind.  It appears that MassBike is working with the police agencies to train officers and phase in the enforcement.  Should Rhode Island ever decide to enact such laws, I would hope that they would have the foresite to do the same and involve the cycling community in the effort.

One of my main concerns with enforcing bicycle laws, especially when it comes to ticketing is that the process requires a somewhat different mindset.  I’m apposed to licensing cyclists.  While this might make sense for adults, it is truly impossible for children and I think anything that takes away a childs ability to ride a bicycle is wrong.  Furthermore, I also think licensing naturally leads to insurance requirements and I don’t think the current model used for automobiles makes sense for cars.  In most accidents, the injuries and damage ocurr to the cyclist, whereas cars often cause tremendous damage to other vehicles and objects.

It will be intersting though, to see how the changes in Massachusetts law play out over the long term.