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MVA Spokesperson Gets It Wrong on Cycling Laws

October 4, 2010
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The Baltimore Sun‘s clearinghouse for MTA press releases and reader letters, the Getting There blog, recently published an interesting statement made by Buel Young, spokesperson for the state Motor Vehicle Administration. It concerns the obligations of cyclists in giving way to motor vehicles if they are going more than 15 m.p.h. below the speed limit. You can find the original post here.

According to Young, the bicycle “has all the rights and responsibilities” of any other vehicle. One of those responsibilities, he said, is to avoid impeding traffic.

But what does that mean? It turns out there’s a very precise answer.

According to Young, a vehicle is impeding traffic if it is forcing following vehicles to slow down to more than 15 mph under the speed limit. Anything less and the driver just has to wait his turn.

Let’s say you’re driving along a winding country road with a speed limit of 35 mph and you come upon a bicycle in the middle of your lane, pedaling at 15 mph. The law says the bicyclist has the responsibility to move aside and let you pass.

But let’s say the speed limit on that country lane is 25 mph. As long as the bicyclist can keep up a pace of 10 mph or more, the bicyclist has the right to use the traffic lane and the driver has no legal recourse but to slow down and exercise patience until the bicyclist moves aside or the double yellow ends. Blaring the horn to prod the bicyclist to move aside is unsafe, illegal, and downright rude.

Now let’s say the bicyclist is in the wrong–blithely hogging the travel lane while slowing the motorist to 20 mph under the speed limit. In that case, the buffer rule does not apply. But drivers who would prefer not to spend their day explaining that to police after a collision should keep their distance anyway.

So Baltimore Spokes actually took the time to look at the law and saw something rather different.

§ 21-804. Minimum speed regulation.
(a) Slow speed impeding traffic prohibited.- Unless reduced speed is necessary for the safe operation of the vehicle or otherwise is in compliance with law, a person may not willfully drive a motor vehicle at such a slow speed as to impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic.

Note that it says motor vehicle, which actually makes sense. (The law Young cites is a second part of the above, clarifying/quantifying what impeding traffic actually is. You can find the entire code at this link.) Not that it matters much anyways, as the law also states that, yes, you can “impede” traffic if it’s in the interest of safety. Like, say there is no bike lane or shoulder or the shoulder is in bad shape. Which also makes sense given that laws are generally written with public safety in mind above motorist convenience.

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