Maine Voices: Recent pedestrian deaths remind us roadways are full of vulnerable users (PPH)
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Lauri Boxer-Macomber, attorney at law, and James Tassé, assistant director of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, are both members of the coalition’s Bicycle Law Enforcement Collaborative.
The recent tragic and avoidable deaths of two pedestrians in Maine remind us that safety on Maine’s public ways is something we all need to work toward.
Regardless of whether we are operating a logging truck, walking with our children, jogging with our dogs, driving to the dentist, hauling our boats to camp or commuting to work on our bicycles, we are all part of how Maine law defines “traffic.” As such, we all have important obligations to understand the rules of the road and the rights and duties owed to ourselves and other traffic.
We are submitting these safety tips on behalf of the Bicycle Law Enforcement Collaborative, an initiative of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, in which law enforcement officers from Portland, Scarborough, South Portland, Yarmouth and the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office work with bicycle riders, educators, safety advocates and a legal professional to make Maine’s roads safer for all users.
• Pedestrians: Where sidewalks and crosswalks exist, they should be used. Maine law requires that drivers yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, which is an excellent reason to use them. Under a new law, drivers must yield to pedestrians who have shown “visible intent to enter the marked crosswalk,” and bicyclists must also yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk.
Sidewalks are safer than walking in the road – use them! On streets where there are no sidewalks, pedestrians should walk, jog or run facing traffic, unless it is unsafe to do so.
And although Maine law offers pedestrians special protections, walkers still should be respectful of the entire traffic system. Please obey traffic signals, make yourself visible, communicate your intentions, remain alert to other traffic around you and don’t forget what it is like to drive a car.
• Bicyclists: Please ride safely, respectfully and lawfully. If you travel in the roadway, you must ride in the same direction as motor vehicle traffic on your side of the roadway. If you ride on sidewalks, watch for traffic entering and exiting breaks in the sidewalks and at intersections, and yield to pedestrians.
If you are riding at night or in the early morning, use lights and reflectors, as required by law. Always use hand signals to communicate with others when you are stopping, slowing, turning and changing position, and use them with enough notice for other drivers to respond.
Although bicyclists may often have the right to use the full travel lane, riders should be judicious about how, when and where that right is exercised. If you pass on the right, which is lawful, you should make your presence known to other traffic and recognize that you may assume risks associated with your decision. Never pass large trucks on the right!
Finally, remember that you are required by law to stop at all stop signs and red lights. Recent changes to the law make it easier for officers to ticket bicyclists who do not obey traffic signs and traffic control devices.
• Motorists: Remember, you are driving a large and potentially lethal piece of machinery, and there is a strong likelihood that you will encounter vulnerable users (pedestrians, bicyclists, construction workers, etc.) lawfully on the roadway.
Please do not get angry or impatient with bicyclists who are lawfully operating in the middle of a traffic lane. Under Maine law, the requirement that bicyclists must operate as far right as “practicable” does not apply when bicyclists are traveling at the same speed as traffic or when bicyclists determine it is unsafe to ride on the right.
In addition, bicyclists may lawfully use the entire traffic lane when the lane is too narrow for them to share with a motor vehicle, when the bicyclists are preparing for a left turn, going straight where a right turn is permitted, overtaking other vehicles, passing parked cars or avoiding hazards or obstacles at the road’s edge.
Motorists should exercise patience and due care when passing vulnerable users. Under Maine law, pedestrians and bicyclists must be passed with at least 3 feet of space – often more, depending on the circumstances. Refrain from passing or attempting to pass until it is 100 percent safe for all traffic.
Using a cellphone or other electronic device while operating a motor vehicle can be deadly. Even the slightest amount of inattention can be fatal, particularly to a bicyclist, walker, worker or other vulnerable user.
Finally, do not speed. Under Maine law, the “lawful” speed is not always the posted limit. Slow down when children, animals, elderly persons, bicyclists and other vulnerable users may be present, particularly when weather conditions reduce visibility and stopping distance.
Regardless of whether we are traveling by foot, bike, car, bus or other mode, everyone wants to make it home safely. Let’s all commit to being 100 percent vigilant, respectful and patient on the roadway.