Bike Bills Would Mean Bigger Fines For ‘Dangerous Drivers’

MassBike and elected officials are trying to make the roads safer for those on two wheels.

Boston is always talking about bike infrastructure improvements and ways to make traveling through the city safer for cyclists. Now, riders are taking their fight for bike rights to Beacon Hill and asking cyclists with a story to share their interactions with drivers and back them up as they try to push two bills through the State House to add comprehensive safety guidelines to Massachusetts bike laws.

Legislation co-signed by State Sen. William Brownsberger and State Rep. Denise Provost would hold drivers accountable if they harass, verbally abuse, or physically harm a cyclist in an altercation while giving law enforcement officials more flexibility to impose severe penalties for dangerous driving. The proposal is being spear-headed by members of MassBike, a grassroots coalition that supports statewide bike use.

According to the wording of one bill being heard next week on Beacon Hill in front of the Committee on Transportation:

A vulnerable user who is intentionally physically assaulted or otherwise intentionally injured, threatened with physical assault or injury, whether by words, a vehicle, body part of another, or other object, or intentionally distracted, or the attempt thereof, by a person in a motor vehicle shall have a civil cause of action in a court.

Those court actions could include hefty fines and possible jail time if the bill is passed. The proposal would also call for drivers to attend mandatory safety classes if they are found guilty of breaking the law.

But the safety changes wouldn’t only help cyclists, however. According to the legislation, wording would be changed to add protections for “vulnerable users” of the road, which would include pedestrians, hand cyclists, tricycle riders, skateboarders, roller skaters, in-line skaters, wheelchair users, people in non-motorized scooter—even people riding horses. “It’s pretty significant [legislation], especially the vulnerable road users bill. What makes it different is it provides additional recourse for those users. If they are harassed or hit—this provides more to potentially fix the problem,” says Josh Zisson, a Boston-based lawyer specializing in bike law.

Zisson says his clients always ask what happens to the driver if they hit them, and currently, all that will happen is insurance premiums may go up. “When we are trying to educate drivers, that’s pretty weak, if you ask me,” he says.

A second bill being pushed forward by cyclists and people who share the road would allow officers to slap drivers with fines if they are caught idling in bike lanes on the sides of streets, impeding the right-of-way for cyclists.

In the meantime, since the legislation still needs to make its way through the halls of the State House, Zisson, whose trade was based on a lengthy bike safety law package passed in 2009, has crafted “The 10 Bike Commandments,” a list of rules that cyclists should follow to keep themselves out of harms way while traveling on the roads.

Zisson says it should be up to cyclists to watch out for drivers opening doors, making “right hook” turns—which under the proposed laws would be a fineable offense—and wear safety gear at night. According to his commandments, drivers often don’t see cyclists and won’t check for them, so riders should try and stay vigilant in their two-wheeled adventures.