[B' Spokes: As if the only "safety" the Feds are concerned about is protecting the driver from their own mistakes... others be damned.]
by Stephen Miller, Streets Blog
American cities are beginning to take the lead on requiring side guards on large trucks in municipal fleets. That’s a good first step toward saving lives, but without addressing privately-owned vehicles, city streets will not be safe from trucks that tend to crush people beneath the rear wheels after impact. The federal government continues to drag its feet, however, and without a national mandate, the prospects for meaningful action from Albany look slim.
-> According to an Oct. 29th City of Boston media release, "Today the Boston City Council voted unanimously to pass a Truck Side Guard Ordinance,... [mandating] all large city-contracted vehicles to be equipped with enhanced safety measures designed to prevent fatalities and further reduce the risks of a collision with pedestrians and cyclists.
"The Truck Side Guard Ordinance is the first of its kind in the country. The ordinance requires vehicles over 10,000 pounds (for tractor-trailers a combined weight over 26,000 pounds) and awarded a contract with the City of Boston to have side guards, convex mirrors, cross-over mirrors, and blind-spot awareness decals. Vehicles associated with an awarded City contract will be inspected for side guards by the Inspectional Services Department and issued a permit, certifying the vehicle for 2-years. For those vehicles not in compliance, businesses will face a fine, escalating from $100 for the first offense, to potential termination of the contract...
"In 2013, the Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics and the Public Works Department undertook the largest municipal pilot of truck side guards in the nation. The Truck Side Guard Ordinance is a result of this pilot, which included more than a year of testing three different types of side guards on 16 large vehicles, reviewing data from external studies, and from field observations. In the City of Boston pilot, each vehicle cost about $1,800 to outfit and will last the lifetime of the vehicle."
But sponsors said yesterday it's unlikely to pass, in large part because of concerns from trial lawyers about its impact on high-dollar cases.
Photo by Rosario Esquivel on Flickr.
"Trial lawyers" bring lawsuits to help people recover money after car crashes, job injuries, employment discrimination, defective products, and more. They are often derided as "ambulance chasers" and the like. But lawsuits when people's rights are violated or negligence has caused harm are also an important force keeping companies from ignoring safety problems or violating the law.
The trial lawyers are also well-organized and active in lobbying, locally through the Trial Lawyers Association of Metropolitan DC. According to Councilmember Tommy Wells, the TLA has been pushing councilmembers not to move forward with the bill. So has the insurance industry.
I spoke to her to understand why she feels this way.
Why are trial lawyers against the bill?
You might ask, wait a minute. This bill is supposed to help cyclists and pedestrians recover if they are injured. And trial lawyers are the people who bring those lawsuits. So why are they against this?
It's because of a legal doctrine known as "joint and several liability." As Wells explained it, if you're hit by a driver who has no money, but someone else who was negligent in some way (maybe the brakes manufacturer, if the brakes failed, for example), you can also go after that party. And even if most of the fault isn't with them, you could recover all of the medical costs from the deeper-pocketed entity.
The trial lawyers really like this provision, because they are really interested in the big cases that can mean a lot of money, both for their clients and for them. Cheh also said she wants to keep it, and noted that in the 45 states which don't have contributory negligence, often they also don't have joint and several liability.
[Bob Mionske responds to these and other comments:]
My question: If, on a rural 2-lane road, an officer gives a motorist a citation for part of the vehicle crossing the double yellow in order to grant the cyclist room, assuming there was clearly sufficient room to do so without peril from an oncoming vehicle, what is the likeliest scenario in a courtroom if the motorist decides to contest this citation?
It would seem intuitive that the decision to mark a road double yellow as opposed to a broken yellow is based on engineering decisions contemplating cars passing other cars at high speed. Might the court agree and, if so, could the fact that a car is passing a cyclist, rather than a motorist, be a mitigating factor in the court's decision, and could this be a reasonable defense by a motorist charged with a violation of 21460?
by Eli Damon, Co-author: Steven Goodridge, I am Traffic
How did we get here?
In response to motorist errors, traffic engineers began marking no-passing zones in areas where the sight distance was inadequate to safely pass a vehicle traveling just below the maximum posted speed limit.
Over time, solid centerlines proliferated over a larger percentage of roadway miles. Engineers marked them extending out several hundred feet from intersections, in areas with driveways, and anywhere else that the engineers considered unsafe for passing, particularly at high speed. The formulas and tables used to determine where to place solid centerlines assumed that the vehicle being passed was traveling near the maximum posted speed limit1, so that dashed center lines, indicating permission to pass, became quite rare. On many two-lane roads, solid centerlines continue for miles at a time, with no dashed sections at all.
The markings that traffic engineers placed on most miles of two-lane roads did not communicate a reasonably convenient process for passing low-speed vehicles.
What’s the problem?
In most of the United States, a motorist is not clearly permitted to cross a solid centerline to pass a cyclist when it is safe to do so. Yet practically all drivers do so rather than continue to follow the cyclist at reduced speed. Drivers recognize that current striping policies for no-passing zones are overly restrictive in the context of low-speed vehicles. Mathematical analysis bears this out. For instance, safely passing a motorist traveling at 35 mph on a 45 mph road requires a sight distance 600 feet longer than passing a 15 mph bicyclist on the same road.
The legal ambiguity around crossing a solid centerline line is a source of conflict for cyclists, motorists, police officers, and driving instructors. Motorists can be unnecessarily inconvenienced because they believe that they are not allowed to pass a cyclist. Their frustration can lead to resentment and hostility toward cyclists. It can even lead to riskier behavior and crashes. A motorist might honk or yell at cyclists or might buzz them to avoid crossing a solid centerline. In the worst cases, motorists have attempted to squeeze past cyclists within the same lane and fatally struck the cyclists.
Can we fix this thing?
Model No-Passing-Zone Exception
When passing a pedestrian, bicycle, tractor, or other slow moving vehicle, the operator of a vehicle may drive on the left side of the center of a roadway in a no-passing zone when such movement can be made in safety and without interfering with or endangering other traffic on the highway.
We ask that legislators modernize their passing laws to reflect safe and practical passing practices, and that cycling advocates make a priority of lobbying them to do so.
Whether it’s crude remarks shouted from car windows at mothers walking their kids to school, or bicyclists nearly squeezed off the road by angry motorists not interested in sharing it, such all-too-common acts of intimidation do more than make the targets fearful.
They also undermine initiatives aimed at fighting obesity and encouraging alternative forms of transportation here and across the nation.
Which is why Kansas City could soon be joining a growing number of communities that have enacted anti-harassment ordinances that impose fines and jail sentences on perpetrators found guilty of street harassment.
Our story goes back to when Anne Arundel County introduced the "Bikes May use the Full Lane" sign and MDOT erroneously added that only cyclists traveling near the speed limit can "take the lane" slower cyclists on the other hand "must" ride far right as possible/practicable. Because basically MDOT said "Oh look, here is a way of looking at the law no one has thought of before," - Well that should have been a warning sign right there, but they decided to defend their position in my conversations with them, so I had to look for other solutions.
This was not the first time MDOT decided to go outside of what I'll call the canon of bicycle safety advice, which I outlined in this story: The best of MDOT's WTF
To demonstrate why MDOT's position was so grievous, let's say the ride side of the road has some issue that is covered by one of the exceptions to our ride right law, like debris or uneven pavement. Bicycle law says we can legally ride further left to avoid these kind of issues but slow moving vehicle law as interpreted by MDOT says we can't. Let me stress it is their interpretation at issue here, I see no conflict between the two per the letter of the law.
So for me it came down to: Does bicycle law clarify the slow moving vehicle law for cyclists or does slow moving vehicle law negate bicycle law and does MDOT have the legal authority to issue an interpretation of law? Or even more grievous does MDOT have the authority to say we are the only state where the Uniform Vehicle Code says something different then other states with the Uniform Vehicle Code?
I hope you can see when put in those terms, the issue is outrageous. But when talking about cyclists riding right when bicycle law says they may use the full lane even Vehicular Cyclists says there is a time we can be safe and polite and not put our safety at risk by riding to the right even though the law does not say you have to, this is called "Control & Release" as demonstrated in the following video:
The problem is the law does not spell this out (nor should it) so it becomes very hard to get MDOT to put this safety information out to cyclists as they primarily deal with summarizing the law and not safety advice that goes beyond the scope of the law. Additionally do I need to point out ANY summary of the law that is done by dropping words is inaccurate?
Or let me state it this way: I understand the desire of motorists that cyclists should assist in easier passing but it comes down to should MDOT stress (poor/inaccurate) summaries of the law or draw upon known good safety advice? My stance is leave the nitty-gritty of the law to the police and the courts and have MDOT stress the safety side of things.
To that end the last response I got from Secretary James T. Smith seems to be very encouraging. And special thanks to Brian Frosh (who is running for Attorney General and please consider contributing to his campaign) for his help and understanding on this issue. I will note one thing I learned from this, when dealing with MDOT about bicycles it would probably be best to get an elected official involved after the first "We are MDOT and we defend our position" response.
From Maryland Department of Transportation - The Secretary's Office
Dear Chairman Frosh:
Thank you for your August 12, 2014 letter regarding whether bicycles are considered "slow moving vehicles." I appreciate you alerting me to the public statements made by the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT)on this matter that may have been confusing, and I am happy we were able to clarify the issue for your constituent.
As noted in the email response, there is no hard and fast standard for requiring bicycles to move or stay right on the road. This allows for flexibility and accommodation for real-life circumstances that occur and may not neatly fall under statutory provisions. I am copying State Highway Administrator Melinda Peters as well as Motor Vehicle Administrator Milton Chaffee, who is also the Governor's Highway Safety Representative, on this response so they are aware of this clarification of the rules of the road as they pertain to bicycles. MDOT strives to provide accurate and timely information to Maryland's citizens and will make sure this issue is understood when communicating with the public.
... [Contact information for further clarification if needed]