Many motorists have lamented the cyclists who break laws while riding in traffic, a new study published by the Danish Road Directorate revealed in that country, where cycling is the preferred method of commute, less than 5 percent of bicyclists break traffic laws, compared to 66 percent of drivers.
So why the disconnect in perception? Study authors opine that when a cyclist violates traffic laws, it’s fairly easy for people to notice. Transgressions by other traffic users, like speeding, are less visible, even though they’re far more dangerous.
Furthermore, a 2017 study published in the Journal of Transport and Land Use asserted that where cyclists do break the law, it’s rational – because it’s done primarily for their own safety, not convenience.
Bike attorneys know these kind of stereotypes are stubborn, but important to challenge not only because they’re wrong, but because they can have real consequences for cyclist safety in Boston and beyond. Motorists who presume cyclists to be scofflaws are likely to exercise less care and concern for their well-being.
More Bicycle Lanes/Cycleways/Bike Paths Means More Law-Abiding Bicyclists
The Danish study utilized video cameras at at numerous intersections in major cities throughout the country, including Copenhagen. Objective analysis of more than 28,500 cyclist crossings revealed that fewer than 5 percent of bicyclists broke the rules when they were riding in bicycle lanes. However, that figure rose to more than 14 percent when there was no safe cycling infrastructure.
Smaller cities, like Denmark, tended to have more scofflaw cyclists, but also on the whole had a lot fewer bicycle infrastructure features. Where cyclists did break the law, the most common offense was cycling on the sidewalk.
Meanwhile, wholly two-thirds of motorists broke the law, their most common offense being speeding.
The findings of this study were nearly identical to another bicycling lawbreaker analysis by a Canadian consulting firm, which reviewed the legality of some 80,000 bicyclist actions at intersections, finding 5 percent violated traffic safety laws.
Combating Erroneous Cycling Stereotypes
Londoners, renowned for their colorful language flair, refer to rule-breaking cyclists as “Lycra louts,” and surveys have found the majority of motorists presume bicyclists routinely ride through red lights. But they like their Boston counterparts are wrong.
In a study by Transport for London, analysts found 85 percent of bicyclists stopped for red lights. That’s not to say it isn’t cause for concern that 15 percent did not, but that’s far from an epidemic or anything close to a majority.
Furthermore, even where cyclists may be breaking the law, the statistical reality is that they aren’t posing a serious risk to anyone bu themselves. Yes, our bike injury lawyers are familiar with a few instances wherein a cyclist plowed over a pedestrian or other cyclists, but such occurrences are rarely fatal. On the other hand, when cyclists collide with motor vehicles – no matter who is at-fault – it’s the bicyclist who suffers the most severe consequences.
More often than not, though, cycling crashes are the result of negligence by motorists.
Regular Cyclists are Safer Behind the Wheel
Being a cyclist further provides valuable safety perspective when that same person is later behind the wheel of a car.
A 2017 study by Accident Analysis & Prevention found this to be yet one more way in which more cycling creates safer roads. This piggybacks off the findings of another study that revealed cyclists who are drivers on the whole tend to have quicker reaction times compared to those who don’t routinely bike. These insurance industry-funded researchers found that whereas 13 percent of drivers overall made at least one claim for either property damage or injury annually, but that figure dropped to 6 percent for drivers who are also cyclists.
The reason, according to study authors, was that cycling has the added bonus of making an individual more attuned to road hazards, and thus better equipped to anticipating danger. Anytime a person is more aware of how he or she fits into his or her surroundings, the better they’ll drive/ride accordingly. The physical exercise component doesn’t hurt, with cyclists on the whole being more physically and mentally agile.
This has led some auto insurers to offer lower rates to drivers who are also cyclists, knowing they are less likely to be held liable for a serious crash, particularly one involving bicyclists – a big win for insurers, as these crashes often result in severe if not fatal injuries, given that cyclists are vulnerable road users.
Primary Reasons for Liability in Massachusetts Bicycle Accidents
When cars and bicycles collide in Boston, there can be a number of reasons for it. If the motorist is deemed at-fault (and bear in mind, the traffic officer’s observations are not the last word on this), injured bicyclists can hold accountable:
- The driver/driver’s insurance company
- The driver’s employer (if he/she was acting in the course/scope of employment at the time)
- The cyclist’s employer (if he/she was acting in the course/scope of employment at the time)
- The owner of the motor vehicle
- The manufacturer of the car, bicycle, helmet, etc. if there is some evidence of product defect that led to the crash or exacerbated injuries
In the majority of cases, drivers are responsible for bicycle crash injuries, and it often comes down to negligence (failure to use reasonable care) based on violation of one or more of the following Massachusetts General Laws:
- MGL Ch. 89, s. 2, Passing a Vehicle in the Same Direction. Drivers passing another vehicle (including a bicycle) in the same direction are required to do so at a safe distance to the left of another vehicle and aren’t allowed to turn right until safely clear of the overtaken vehicle. If it’s not possible to overtake a bicycle or other vehicle at a safe distance in the same lane, the overtaking car can use all or part of the adjacent lane if it’s safe – or they have to have to wait for a safe opportunity to complete the maneuver. MGL Ch. 90, s. 14 has a similar directive, requiring vehicles passing bicycles to do so at a reasonable and proper speed.
- MGL Ch. 90, s. 14 – Right Hooks, Dooring, General Precautions for the Safety of Other Travelers. This is a broad provision of law, prohibiting everything from vehicle occupants from opening a door unless it’s reasonably safe to do so without interfering with the movement of other traffic – including pedestrians and bicyclists. The law also bars turning left into an alley, private road or driveway before yielding right-of-way to a vehicle is approaching from the other direction OR a bicyclist traveling on the right.
Even if a cyclist is found to be partially at-fault for a crash with a motor vehicle, Massachusetts comparative fault law does not bar collection of damages so long as the bicyclist’s percentage of fault isn’t greater than that of the car driver.
If you or someone you love has been injured in a Boston bicycle accident (we prefer the term “bike crash”), call for a free and confidential appointment at 617-777-7777.