Monday, October 12, 2009

Rules of the Road (Courtesy?)

I'd like to apologize to the gentleman I flipped off over the weekend. I was on my bike and he decided to pass me dangerously on a blind corner with a car coming the other direction. He managed to endanger me, himself, the boy in the car that may have been his son, and the oncoming driver. I yielded to the adrenaline shot that arrives when something dangerous happens, and the anger at his irresponsible behavior came out. He decided to take offense to my visual curse and stopped to engage in a friendly dialogue that was more than likely completely counter-productive. Somehow it was my fault - even though between me and my bike I weigh ~225 lbs and the car weighs oh, a ton-and-a-half maybe - that he passed this way, that I was "impeding the progress of a motor vehicle" and that was against the law. Do you think he could have used the brake pedal? Clearly it was more important for him to save the ~30 seconds it might have taken to clear the section of road with poor visibility we were sharing and pass more safely. I noted that I have every right to be on that road and I believe he mentioned something like "no you do not"...I am sure it was phrased differently, and I am sure I was not necessarily even-toned. We both exchanged pleasantries about "looking it up." Regardless, throwing a visual curse was ill-advised, and I realized that I hold certain beliefs about what the rules of the road are when I'm bicycling and that I have never really read the Massachusetts State Laws regarding Rules of the Road. (image from

I decided to "look it up", reviewing Chapter 4 of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Driver's Manual and it appears that my assumptions are correct, there is no mention of "impeding the progress of a motor vehicle", other than when a vehicle is passing you are required to slow down and stay to the right (this is true of any vehicle on the road). I took out the sections I could find that seemed to relate to the situation we experienced.

Page 97: Rules for Passing
"...You should pass a pedestrian, bicyclist, or motor vehicle only when it is necessary and safe to do so. You may not exceed the speed limit when passing. If you have any doubt, do not pass..."

Page 98: Being Passed
"If you are being passed by another vehicle, you must slow down and stay to the right. Allow the other driver to pass safely. Do not speed up."

Page 101: Slow-Moving Vehicles
"Most farm vehicles, construction rigs, and other slow-moving vehicles have orange warning
signs mounted at the rear of the vehicle. If you approach such a vehicle, reduce your speed and use the same caution you would with bicyclists and pedestrians. Allow plenty of space around the vehicle if you plan to pass."
Page 105: Rules for Bicyclists
When you are riding a bicycle on public ways, state law subjects you to the same basic laws and regulations that apply to motor vehicle operators.

• You must obey all traffic signs and signals, ride single file with the flow of traffic, and yield
to pedestrians.
• You must ride on the right side of the roadway, unless you are turning left. To turn left,
signal, look, and move into the lane closest to the center line.
• It is strongly recommended that you avoid listening to headphones while riding.
• Before entering or crossing a roadway, you should stop, look left, look right, and look
left again for traffic—even if it is a one-way street.
• When preparing to merge, stop, or turn, use hand signals to communicate your
intentions to other roadway users. You may use either hand to signal.
• Use an audible signal bell, horn, or your voice to warn pedestrians.
• For nighttime operation, your bike must be equipped with a white headlight, red taillight,
and/or rear reflector, pedal reflectors, and side reflectors. In addition, you must wear
reflective ankle bands.
• You may use sidewalks outside business districts, unless there is a local ordinance prohibiting
• When operating on a sidewalk, you must yield the right of way to pedestrians.

After reviewing these sections of the manual, I can see nothing that instructs me as a cyclist to make sure the way is clear for motorized vehicles. In fact, much of the wording seems to provide instructions for motorists to yield to others using the road. Of course, we all know that how we drive depends upon how these laws are enforced, and that cyclists (motorized and non-motorized) are minorities on the road and have responsibility for their own safety as well. I drive a car as well as ride a bike, I KNOW I have violated the rules of the road occasionally when using both modes of transportation. I also know that when you're encased in a car, you're less aware of what's happening around you, helping lead to the 37,261 traffic deaths recorded in 2008.

Mo Rocca had a story on CBS's Sunday Morning over the weekend about the Future of Traffic, it was illuminating an amusing, and sheds some light on the behavior of us as drivers.

I suppose what's most frustrating to me is the sometime careless disregard we have for those around us. The gentleman's reaction to his dangerous maneuver was to blame me and not take responsibility for his action, something that seems all too common in many facets of our culture/economy.

I am sure my view on this is subjective, so perhaps someone will read this and point out what I've missed.


Unknown said...

You should print out those rules and hand them out the next time some driver wants to have a "chat".

Anonymous said...

That's a great point, and I think I will print some small cards out with summary info and links to the documents (laminated of course) and keep them on my person. It'll be like the Beer Summit; a learning opportunity.

Unknown said...

No, I don't think that you are "missing anything" in your "subjective" analysis. It adheres to the principles of critical analysis and also empathy. It is the other person who is exercising faulty critical analysis and definitely showing a lack of empathy.

Sorry for your troubles, but I'm glad you weren't hurt. And I'm glad you could look at it as an opportunity to develop some "lessons learned" from the experience and share them with others.

Kenneth Buttercup said...

Hi again, Wayne.

I printed out and cut slips with the relevant MGL quoted about safe passing.

I have actually found it is better to talk as long as possible with these people, and once the adrenaline wears off you each become more human and start talking instead of fighting.

Of course it's tough to catch them and remain calm, or for them to be calm when being chased and caught.

Being friendly opens up a world of discussion. Nobody will listen when accused of wrongdoing, or even consider it when an angry person is telling them off.

Being a traffic-rule ambassador is TOUGH!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great comments. I still regret the bird-waving, not a good way to engage. Mr. Buttercup's comments re: "cooling down" are well-received.

Cassi said...

Excellent post! I know we've all (cyclists) been in similar variations on the situation. Last week I was cut off by a left-hand turning driver - a National Guard in his official National Guard car. I find that my immediate reaction is often to confront the driver - especially when I know I am "in the right", but the opportunity doesn't always present itself.

I really like the idea of carrying along a copy of pertinent road rules, for when the opportunity presents itself. I also think we have to remember to try and respond with facts and reason, rather than emotion (which can be difficult, especially after feeling like our safety and well-being has been endangered). I think you handled the sitation extremely well.

I can only wish that our DMV's and driver training facilities would increase driver education regarding sharing the road - with cyclists, pedestrians, etc. I personally believe that most motorists DO feel that the responsibility to navigate safely is not their responsibility - that we (collectively) are simply someplace we don't belong.

Thanks for this post. It's a discussion that needs to take place.