Oregon 1, Massachusetts 0

Last week I came across this article with a video on unsafe passing of a vehicle around a cyclist. Notably:

Portland police announced today that, on Thursday, they cited the Kia driver for his recklessness in the video. That’s more than a month after the incident occurred, but just three days after the videographer, Tony Tapay, reported it to cops.

In reviewing that video and comparing to my own incident of near passing, it’s clear that the vehicle in my video was much, much closer. When I shared my video with Arlington PD back in May, however, they gave me this as their final response:

Thank you and again, from what I viewed on the video and your statement that the car was traveling at 25 mph [note: I wrote “at least 25 mph” in my video, which is not the same as what he wrote here] I don’t see a violation. Further, before the government (I. E. The police) tracks down citizens for enforcement purposes there must be a clear violation of the law. We go to extraordinary measures to ensure the constitutional rights  of our citizenry.

Your reply has caused me to review the tape again and I see no need for our traffic unit to follow up.  Please further any further comment/complaint to the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles.

I appreciated the prompt and polite response, for sure, but this didn’t make a bit of difference in helping to make the roads safer. I then sent this to Senator Brownsberger*, who is a bicycle commuter himself, to find out what is latest the status on our safe passing law. He kindly offered the latest updates and it’s true that MA’s current law is ambiguous and difficult to enforce. I looked up Oregon’s passing law. It’s still a moving target (ie. not a set distance) but I prefer it:

The law, which went into effect on January 1, 2008, defines “safe distance” as “sufficient to prevent contact with the person operating the bicycle if the person were to fall into the driver’s lane of traffic.” While a number of states have legislated specific passing distances, the most common of which is three feet, the Oregon law uses the bicyclist’s “fall over” height as a distance measure, a useful gauge to protect from a side swipe.**

I object to the Arlington PD Chief’s response on the basis of pure logic: That distance at that speed is NOT safe, period. His response did not say anything about safe passing, only mentioned the speed, which is the minimum guess that I made, not any actual fact of the incident. By the video you can see that the passing clearance was mere inches. Even if MA’s current law doesn’t specifically define what that safe distance should be, I’d like to see him experience a car passing him at – let’s say 25mph – with inches to spare and then have him tell me that it is totally safe.

Anyway, the road to making real change is to help support laws that are clear and enforceable. So I ride, record, gather data, and share with leaders like Senator Brownsberger to make way.

*A shout out to the Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee: When I shared my video, they were extremely supportive and invited me to a meeting to review/discuss this incident, at which I had the attention of another Arlington police officer. ABAC offered suggestions on potential next steps, including contacting our representatives/senators.

** Summary thanks to this law firm here.

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