Today I was riding in the breakdown lane on rt 37, and traffic was backed up for miles. A large cargo van had left an intersection open, and a truck coming the opposite way made a very fast, very sharp left hand turn, just barely missing me. My road did not have a light or stop sign. If he had hit me, who would have been at fault?

Asked by
Anonymous

The driver.

Massachusetts General Law, Chapter 90 §14 has the following to say on the subject:

When turning to the left within an intersection or into an alley, private road or driveway an operator shall yield the right of way to any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction, including a bicycle on the right of the other approaching vehicles, which is within the intersection or so close thereto as to constitute an immediate hazard. 

If he had hit you, it would have been because he failed to yield, thus violating this statute.  As I’ve discussed before, breaking a law can make a crash your fault.

The driver would even be 100% at fault if he tried to claim that you were comparatively negligent because you were riding in the breakdown lane and he couldn’t see you.  That’s because the statute goes on to say that “[i]t shall not be a defense for a motorist causing an accident with a bicycle that the bicycle was to the right of vehicular traffic.”

Now that’s how you write a fantastic bike law.  Other states, get crackin’.

Yours,

Josh

I’ve seen you say many times, “In Mass, in the event of an accident, a cyclist is automatically at fault if she is not obeying traffic laws.” Does it then follow that a cyclist who has been struck by a car at night would automatically be at fault if she did not have the required front light + rear reflector?

Asked by
roosto

Well, here’s the thing: negligence per se isn’t actually automatic in Massachusetts…

In many other states it works that way, but here in MA, violation of a regulation or law is only evidence of negligence.  It can be quite strong evidence, and very convincing, but at the end of the day, it’s not a done deal.

I didn’t mention this in my explanations of negligence per se for a few reasons:

  1. Most of my readers don’t live in Massachusetts.
  2. It’s easier to understand if I don’t get too deep into the particular jurisdiction-specific mechanics of the doctrine.
  3. The end result is largely the same whether it’s automatic or not.

So, to answer your question: yes, the fact that a cyclist did not have a rear reflector at night (as required by law) would be evidence that they were partially at fault for a crash.  In MA, their liability would not be automatically proven, but in other states it would.

Boy, it feels good to get that off my chest.

Yours,

Josh

Hands: They’re not just for flipping off cars anymore!

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One of the dorkier parts of cycling has to be hand signals. You might as well be wearing elbow pads and yelling “Gangway for foot cycle!” as you navigate through a crowd of pedestrians on the way to a meeting of the local Philatelic Society (you’re the treasurer).

But even though hand signaling may seem dorky or antiquated, it can actually be a pretty big deal.

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Putting Your Foot Down: Part 1

Stopping at a red light is never optional when you’re in a car. But on a bike, it doesn’t always seem necessary to wait at lights — maybe the intersection’s clear, or there’s a “walk” sign in the direction you’re heading, or whatever.

This probably doesn’t need to be said, but running red lights on a bike is illegal. Specifically, Massachusetts General Law Chapter 89, Section 9 forbids it.

That’s a terrific reason not to do it, but in my opinion it’s not the most important one. The #1 reason has to do with your bank account.

To explain, I’m gonna get a little technical — so bear with me.

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