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Bicyclists and Drivers: Understanding the Rules of the Road

With the recent wave of fatal accidents involving bicyclists and drivers, local police departments want to make certain the rules of the road are being adhered to so everyone can enjoy a safe ride.

In September, a young Hopkinton boy was tragically hit and killed by a driver while riding his bike. In addition, two cyclists from Massachusetts, who were taking part in an annual bike ride, were killed in New Hampshire when a driver plowed into them.

Before anyone hops on a bike, it's crucial to make sure riders and their bikes are equipped with the proper safety gear. Upton Police Chief Michael Bradley says all cyclists should wear properly fitted helmets regardless of their age; by law, children 16 and under are required to wear helmets in Massachusetts. Bradley also says wearing bright colors, "particularly when cycling in the evening and early morning hours," is critical in order for drivers and walkers to catch sight of riders. Cyclists should also wear reflectors on ankles if there are no reflectors on their bike pedals.

For young bike riders, Bradley encourages parents to seek out safe bike trails and utilize sidewalks as much as possible.

Whether an individual is on the road riding a bike or driving a car, all share equal responsibility when it comes to obeying traffic laws. Mendon Police Officer Lt. Don Blanchette explained that cyclists must obey the same laws that apply to motorists. "Cyclists need to stop at stop signs and obey all other road signs, use the proper hand signals, and ride in the same direction as traffic," said Blanchette.

As far as sharing the road, motorists and bike riders need to take heed of one another.

Motorists who are trying to pass bicyclists should always proceed with caution. "Drivers need to slow down and pass on the left at a safe distance," said Milford Police Officer Joe Francesconi. "If I saw a driver pass a cyclist at too close a distance, I would probably pull them over." At the same time, a cyclist must be sure to give pedestrians the right of way when necessary. A number of other bike regulations concerning equipment, riding, and safety standards can be found at www.massbike.org/resources/bike-law.

These days, a big concern for public safety officers is the distracted driver. The National Safety Council estimates that at least 1.6 million car crashes each year involve drivers using cell phones or texting. "The laws are very clear about cell phone use and texting," said Blanchette. In Massachusetts, drivers are not allowed to text, email, or surf the Web while driving. Drivers under the age of 18 may only utilize their cell phones to call someone in the case of an emergency, such as dialing 911.

Francesconi says he's seen it all when it comes to pulling over distracted drivers. "Someone was actually trying to do a crossword puzzle while driving," he said. "Someone else was working on their laptop."

Still, all officers agree that awareness on the part of the motorist, the biker, and the pedestrian is a critical part of keeping everyone safe on the roads. "Always be aware of your surroundings," added Bradley.




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