"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."
Source: <a href="http://bit.ly/1qWmAot">http://bit.ly/1qWmAot</a>
from CenterLines, the e-newsletter of the National Center for Bicycling & Walking.
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.
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?
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.
1. Eliminate exceptions to the laws that make them weaker:
2. Link passing distance to passing speed:
3. Change lanes to pass:
4. Make passing collisions prima facie evidence of an illegal pass:
5. Criminalize buzzing:
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.
The PDF of the letter.
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]
James T. Smith, Jr.
After a rash of high-profile bicycle accidents, Maryland's General Assembly might consider strengthening laws that allow judges to punish careless drivers.
Last month saw the sentencing of a Calvert County driver who hit and killed bicyclist Patricia Cunningham, of Annapolis, while she was riding on Riva Road last year. Cunningham was an assistant track and cross-country coach at Annapolis High School.
A grand jury had charged the driver with four traffic violations. A judge found her guilty of three of them and imposed the maximum penalty: a $1,500 fine, as well as points on her license.
This angered some in the community. Prosecutors and bicycle organizations hope the Cunningham case will spark a debate about Maryland's laws on the rules of the road and the severity of charges that can be brought against reckless drivers.
"We're open to any changes in the law that give individuals the tools for justice," said House of Delegates Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Annapolis. "If the state's attorneys have any suggestions, we're willing to listen to them."
At the center of the debate is a 2011 Maryland law. The measure aims to establish a middle ground between the longer prison sentences associated with drunken driving and excessive speeding and the fines for minor traffic violations, such as running a red light.
The law uses the term "negligence" to describe the actions of a driver who is careless or not paying attention. Minor negligence is a traffic violation punishable by only a fine. Criminal negligence — legally, a "gross deviation" from careful driving — can carry a sentence of up to three years in prison.
Anne Arundel County Deputy State's Attorney William Roessler said that while the new law is a step in the right direction, juries and judges struggle to determine what should be considered criminal negligence.
Roessler, the prosecutor in the Cunningham case, said the law's wording is too similar to the laws on drunken driving for it to be effective. "It's so close that grand juries and judges are going to hold it to a very similar standard," he said.
"There may very well be a small category of cases, but it's not going to work very much. I haven't seen it yet."
Grand juries decide on how defendants are charged, so the way a law works depends on the way a grand jury interprets it, Roessler said.
In this case, the grand jury decided that defendant Whitney Decesaris' actions didn't amount to criminal negligence. She was charged with traffic violations instead, leading to fines instead of potential jail time.
"The loss from a human standpoint compared to $1,500 … it just seems grossly out of proportion," said Jon Korin of BikeAAA, an area bicycle advocacy group.
Roessler said prosecutors asked lawmakers to amend the law's wording to better reflect what they wanted it to accomplish. He said delegates were confident the law would work as intended.
Some delegates, however, said the problem is harder to fix than it seems.
"When something bad happens, people want to propose a law, but (Decesaris) didn't obey the current law," said Del. Herb McMillan, R-Annapolis.
McMillan said changing the law won't force people to follow the rules of the road that keep cyclists safe — namely, allowing 3 feet when passing at appropriate speeds.
"I don't really know what to think, aside from this was a tragic accident," he said. "I'm not sure a law new could have fixed it."
Busch said this is the first he has heard of attorneys having problems with the law, and lawmakers will consider working with prosecutors to make it more effective.
Meanwhile, bicycle advocates said harsher penalties for careless drivers are the key to reducing injuries and deaths.
"Enforcement is important," Korin said. "You can do education, but enforcement is a very, very critical element of changing behavior."
He expects the state level of BikeAAA to discuss legislative changes it may take to the legislature.
"It's a conversation that needs to be had so that proper charges can be applied."
§ 2-210. Manslaughter by vehicle or vessel -- Criminal negligence
. (a) "Vehicle" defined. -- In this section, "vehicle" includes a motor vehicle, streetcar, locomotive, engine, and train.
. (b) Prohibited. -- A person may not cause the death of another as the result of the person's driving, operating, or controlling a vehicle or vessel in a criminally negligent manner.
. (c) Criminal negligence. -- For purposes of this section, a person acts in a criminally negligent manner with respect to a result or a circumstance when:
. . (1) the person should be aware, but fails to perceive, that the person's conduct creates a substantial and unjustifiable risk that such a result will occur; and
. . (2) the failure to perceive constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that would be exercised by a reasonable person.
. (d) Exception. -- It is not a violation of this section for a person to cause the death of another as the result of the person's driving, operating, or controlling a vehicle or vessel in a negligent manner.
. (e) Violation. -- A violation of this section is criminally negligent manslaughter by vehicle or vessel.
. (f) Penalty. -- A person who violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction is subject to imprisonment not exceeding 3 years or a fine not exceeding $ 5,000 or both.
Note: this is a misdemeanor charge and not a criminal charge like what the Grand Jury acquitted her of.
Remember Nathan Krasnopoler when the police refused to acknowledge the law that gave cyclists the right-of-way in a bike lane? It looks like something similar is going on here.