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Sharing the Road: A Turf War

Share the Road
Bicycle Coalition of Maine

Summer is here and so starts the season of cycling. With recent hit-and-runs and deadly collisions, sharing the road has become a hot topic.

Usually I’m pedal powering my butt to work or for a joy ride, but lately the roads have been a scary place for cyclists. I’ve been clipped several times by vehicles in the area. Once I was hit by a car so hard I was thrown off my bike. The car’s mirror was broken off, yet the driver didn’t stop. My story matches other cyclists experiences in what’s being described as a ‘turf war.’

With gas prices and folks going green, bikes have become more than recreation vehicles. More and more cyclists are hitting the road and sharing the road is proving to be a challenge. Motor vehicles need to be more aware of cyclists and cyclists need to obey the rules of the road.

The ‘three foot rule’ in no longer a rule, it’s a law. Matter of fact, several laws have been recently passed in Maine to make roads safer for all who travel on them. The three foot rule dictates that a vehicle must give a cyclist no less than three feet of clearance when passing. Newer laws that passed in June give cyclists the right to steer into the travel lane if they deem the shoulder unsafe. It also states that a driver must wait for nearby cyclists to pass before turning, if they are turning through the cyclists lane of travel.

However, it’s not the drivers of cars and trucks that are always the ‘aggressor.’ Some cyclists disobey the rules of the road as well. Cyclists must adhere to all stop signs, traffic lights, and signs. Bikes also must travel with traffic. However that can even be tricky with non-bike friendly infrastructure. It’s a catch-22 at times, doing the legal thing or illegal. Sometimes cyclists have no choice but to ride on a sidewalk, which is illegal. In other cases Maine’s common narrow roads prove to be hazardous for all on the road.

Laws that apply to cyclists are though to enforce. Police agencies simply don’t have the staffing to catch every offense. Sometimes its a judgment call on the officer’s part. There are times when it just comes down to allowing a cyclist to do what they need to feel safe.

When it comes to collisions, it’s a full-on investigation. Nationally, bicycles amount to 2% of traffic fatalities. An investigation is required when there is personal injury or at least $1,000 in damage. When a collision between and motor vehicle and a cyclist is apparent, it can be used as ‘prima facie’ evidence of a violation of the three foot law. The investigation looks into what happened, weather it was a violation of a law or a cyclist that swerved into traffic. There is an ongoing investigation as we speak.

On June 14th David LeClaire of Watertown, Massachusetts was killed while participating in The Trek Across Maine. He killed when he apparently fell into the travel lane of a passing 18-wheeler. Police have determined that the driver of the truck gave LeClaire three feet of clearance but he lost his balance somehow. No charges are expected to be against the driver. It was the first cyclist fatality in Maine in six years.

Being safe on the road is everyone’s responsibility. Share the road!

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