Cycling In Massachusetts: Dangerous Motorists Fail To Yield

Bicyclists are an increasingly common sight in Boston. Federal data shows nearly 2 percent of workers commute by bike in the city – almost triple the national rate. Plus, there are about 56,000 bicycle trips made in the city each day.

Some believe this is an indication it’s going to get safer. One of the most serious threats for cyclists is motorists. The more drivers see bicyclists, the more natural it becomes to constantly check for them when backing up, changing lanes or negotiating turns.

Boston bicycle accident attorneys at The Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman's BikeAttorney.com know well that Massachusetts law gives bicyclists the right to use all public ways in the state – except as limited access or express state highways where signs posted specifically prohibit two-wheeled vehicles.

Bicycle safety is a two-way street. Cyclists have to obey all the same basic traffic laws and regulations as motor vehicle operators, and drivers have to respect that cyclists, who have every right to be on the road too, are vulnerable and are entitled to use of caution.

Unfortunately, far too many motorists pass too closely, honk, harass cyclists or simply don’t watch out for them. The City of Boston reports that 91 percent of all bicycle accidents reported to local EMS and police stemmed from bicycles versus motor vehicles.

Study after study has shown that when bikes and cars collide, it’s more likely the driver is to blame. In a significant number of cases, failure to yield is the problem.

What is a Failure to Yield Crash?

When cyclists and motorists share the road, it’s important for drivers to remember that bicycles, for all intents and purposes, are considered “vehicles.” That means they are afforded the appropriate right-of-way.

Too often, we see situations in which motorists viewed cyclists as “in my way.” In reality, drivers should view cyclists as equals who are just as entitled to the road as they are.

Failure-to-yield accidents happen when drivers:

  • Don’t check their blind spots before turning, changing lanes or backing out;
  • Don’t keep a general lookout for bikes;
  • Are distracted;
  • Are speeding;
  • Don’t use their turn signals;
  • Are under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

There are three common kinds of failure-to-yield crashes where bicycles and cars are concerned:

  • Stop Sign Accidents. In about 9 percent of all cases, the bicyclist has the right-of-way on a street that has no stop sign when a car approaches from a street that does have a stop sign. After stopping at the sign, the motorist drives out into the intersection – into the path of the cyclist who has the right-of-way. In most cases, absent other factors, it’s the driver who is going to be at-fault in these cases.
  • The Left Cross. This is when bicyclists and motorists approach an intersection from opposite directions of travel. Upon entering the intersection, the driver turns left and strikes the cyclist. In most cases, it will be the driver who is liable to the cyclist.
  • The Right Hook. There are a number of ways this situation can unfold. It could be when a car passes a bicycle as they both close in on an intersection before the car cuts off the cyclist and turns right. There are also right hook situations in which both the cyclist and the driver are waiting at a traffic light; when the light changes, the driver turns right, cutting off or even hitting the cyclist.

Laws that Protect Cyclists

There are a number of Massachusetts statutes that aim to protect cyclists. Primarily, these laws are codified in MGL Ch. 89, Section 2 and Ch. 90, Section 14. Among them:

  • Motorists have to give cyclists enough room to pass safely. They aren’t allowed to squeeze a cyclist in a narrow lane. In the event a lane is too narrow to safely pass, the driver has to use another lane or, if that isn’t an option, wait until it is safe to pass.
  • Drivers have to yield to bicyclists when making a left turn. The law specifically prohibits yelling to bicyclists riding to the right of other traffic (on the shoulder) when they are legally permitted to be, even though it might be more difficult to see them.
  • Drivers are barred from making sudden right turns (those “right hooks” we mentioned earlier) at intersections and driveways after passing a bicyclist. Drivers need to look out for bicyclists on the right, and understand that if they do cause a crash with a cyclist on the right, they aren’t going to be able to use this as a defense.

And of course, it’s considered part of the driver’s duty of care to check for bicyclists before initiating any maneuver. Boston bicyclists injured in crashes caused by motorists’ failure to yield should immediately contact an experienced lawyer.

Contact the Boston Bicycle Accident Lawyers at The Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman's BikeAttorney.com.