Last week I mentioned that the Maryland Senate was holding a hearing on the "Bicyclist Duty" bill (S.B. 808). I was trying to track down instances where police reports incorrectly blamed cyclists for crashes when a driver violated the cyclist's right of way, for the testimony of Barry Childress, who manages the Baltimore Spokes website. I'll return to that topic next week, but for those who find the General Assembly website cumbersome, here is a sound file for the hearing (MP3: 20 min,10.3 MB), a diagram of crash types all the witnesses used, and the powerpoint presentation I used as the final witness.
Senator Jamie Raskin (D-Takoma Park) introduced the bill with the following explanation:
The goal of this bill is to ensure that in collisions involving an automobile and a bicycle, whoever failed to yield right of way, or abide by the rules of the road is liable for having created the accident. Transportation Article § 21-1202 appears to provide bicyclists with the same right to the road as motor vehicles when it says that anyone operating a bicycle “has all the rights granted to and is subject to all the duties required of the driver of a vehicle by this title” and the equal right to the road is clearly stated in the code. But that does not mean that bicyclists always have an equal right to the road in practice. Because they are small, their right to the road depends on the law protecting that right. But the law has failed to do so in a number of ways.
For example, if someone illegally opens a car door into a bicyclist that is lawfully riding on the street, our tort law allows the driver’s insurance company to blame the cyclist and decline to pay even if the cyckuist was obeying the law at the time. If a truck makes a right turn from the left lane and hits a bicyclist in the right lane, the law allows the trucking company to assert that it was partly the cyclist’s fault for merely riding lawfully in the lane, and decline to pay the cyclist’s estate.
This bill attempts to clarify the intent of the law by adding four simple words “and only those duties” to complete this sentence: “Every person operating a bicycle or a motor scooter in a public bicycle area has all the rights granted to and is subject to all the duties, and only those duties required of the driver of a vehicle by this title…” This change expresses the fact that a cyclist who obeys all of the rules of the road specified in the code fulfills those duties for the purposes of the law.
The bill also adds joint responsibility for cyclists to watch for motorists as well as for motorists to watch for cyclists. By making these three small changes, we can truly say that motorists and cyclists together “share the road."
(Jim Titus is an advocate for the rights of cyclists from Prince Georges County. The views expressed in this post are solely his own.)