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Maryland Bicycle Safety Task Force Report Discusses Vulnerable Road Users & Contributory Negligence

Baltimore’s WJZ reported the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) reviewed Maryland State Police reports concerning vehicle collisions with bicyclists and pedestrians. Between January 2015 and July 2017 there were 2,281 pedestrian-related accidents, 509 of which involved those on a bicycle. These incidents resulted in approximately 1,366 injuries and 147 fatalities.

In response to critics of the SHA in this regard, Charlie Gischlar, in media relations, stated the idea that SHA does not prioritize pedestrian safety is “false”. He further explained that both drivers and pedestrians are contributing to the problem through careless actions. Based on his personal observations, he says the problem largely stems from pedestrians focused only on their mobile devices.

Maryland’s Ranking

The Task Force analyzed the state’s laws regarding bicyclist safety comparatively against other states. The League of American Bicyclists (LAB) had composed a report that ranked states based off their “bicycle friendliness”, which considers laws, infrastructure, enforcement, funding and other factors. Maryland earned a #11 ranking among all states, largely attributed to their “safe passing” laws, established bicycle plan, and other initiatives.

Bicycle Crash Liability

A key focus of the LAB is promoting accountability and civil liability in crashes involved with bicyclists and motorists. The Task Force acknowledged there may be room for improvement in the state’s penalties for negligent motorists in these types of accidents. In 2016, the General Assembly considered proposed legislation referred to as “Ryan’s Law”, which sought additional requirements when a driver was alleged to have contributed to a roadway fatality attributed to potential reckless or negligent action.

Vulnerable Road Users

Some states have established variations of laws pertaining to “vulnerable road users”. These generally are geared for bicyclists, pedestrians, those in wheelchairs, roadway construction workers, and others potentially more susceptible to injuries. Thus far, the states with such laws have addressed three primary concerns:

  • Stricter consequences for violating current laws involving vulnerable road users
  • Requiring court appearances for those charged with these violations
  • Implementation of new legislation to protect vulnerable road users

Contributory Negligence

Behavior that demonstrates contributory negligence is an action which a party involved in an accident “contributed” to the occurrence of the event. In terms of a bicycle accident with a motor vehicle, this would be the amount of negligence allocated to the bicyclist in the accident that resulted in damages. Those promoting “bicycle friendly” laws worry that vague provisions like, that cyclists must travel as far in the right lane as possible, will be cited as contributory by motorists defending themselves in claims for damages.

Potential Solutions

Proponents encourage state leaders to more specifically address bicyclist safety-related issues. In 2016, the District of Columbia implemented the Motor Vehicle Recovery Act, which replaces the concept of contributory negligence with comparative negligence in vehicle-related accidents. Rather than reducing awards for damages proportionally, their comparative negligence statute allows pedestrians and bicyclists to still recover up to 100% of awarded damages as long as their proportion of negligence in the accident is less than 50%.

About the Author

Charles GilmanCharles Gilman
Charles Gilman

As managing partner and co-founder of Gilman & Bedigian, it is my mission to help our clients recover and get their lives back on track. I strongly believe that every person who is injured by a wrongful act deserves compensation, and I will do my utmost to bring recompense to those who need and deserve it.

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