At least 13 bicyclists have been killed during the period of 2010-2015, reports the Boston Globe. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that 9 had died in Massachusetts in 2015 alone, though no fatalities were reported in that year.
That is unless you count the death of Dr. Anita Kurmann, who was crushed by a semi-truck August 7, 2015. She was riding on Massachusetts Avenue in Boston’s Back Bay, but police didn’t find the truck driver guilty of the accident.
“Jake Wark, a spokesman for Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley, told the Boston Globe that because the driver wasn’t drinking, speeding, or distracted, and didn’t ‘disregard; a ‘known risk,’ they could not charge him,” reported Streetsblog, a daily news site that focuses on stories that promote a lower dependence on cars and a higher use of bicycles.
“Killing a cyclist due to carelessness is still not considered a prosecutable offense in Boston, nor in most places around the U.S. Kurmann is one of 33 people killed while biking in the Boston area since 2015, according to MassBike. Charges were brought in only five of those cases, and convictions were secured in two.”
A video secured by MassBike, a bicyclist advocacy group, seeks to show evidence that Dr. Kurmann was killed by the driver’s negligence when he turned onto Beacon Street, crushing her under the wheels of his semi-truck.
“This video shows this doctor is doing everything right. She is doing everything legally,” said Richard Fries, executive director of MassBike. “The truck driver, having overtaken her, operates without due caution or care, crushes this woman to death, and drives away.”
No charges were filed against the driver.
The Law for Bicyclists
Massachusetts does have multiple laws that regulate bicycle safety and laws that vehicle operators need to heed.
Chapter 90, Section 14 of the Massachusetts General Law states: “In approaching or passing a person on a bicycle the operator of a motor vehicle shall slow down and pass at a safe distance and at a reasonable and proper speed.
When turning to the left within an intersection or into an alley, private road or driveway an operator shall yield the right of way to any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction, including a bicycle on the right of the other approaching vehicles, which is within the intersection or so close thereto as to constitute an immediate hazard. It shall not be a defense for a motorist causing an accident with a bicycle that the bicycle was to the right of vehicular traffic.”
Additionally Massachusetts Chapter 85, Section 11b requires:
- Bicyclists only ride no more than 2 abreast at any time, but if a roadway has more than 1 lane, they must ride within a single lane.
- Bicyclists must give an audible warning whenever necessary to ensure safe operation of the bicycle (but this cannot be a siren or a whistle)
- During the period of one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise, bicyclists must have a lamp emitting a white light and either a lamp or reflector on the back.
Petition for Change
MassBike, along with others, have petitioned for An Act to Reduce Traffic Fatalities which is attached to a bill before the Joint Transportation Committee of the Massachusetts Legislature.
“The legislation includes calls for improved convex mirrors and side guards on all trucks contracted with the state and for a standardized crash reporting tool to be developed by the state to be used by first responders when cyclists or pedestrians are involved in a crash with a motor vehicle,” says MassBike.
Behind the Times
At the time of the Dr. Kurmann accident in 2015, Boston Transportation Department deputy commissioner James Gillooly “admitted that the city was ‘behind the times’ with regard to bike infrastructure” but called construction on a protected bike lane on Commonwealth Avenue project “cutting edge.”
Other Accident Statistics
The Boston Globe reported in 2015 that the Boston Emergency Medical Services showed an average of about 520 fatal and nonfatal crashes annually in Boston from 2010 through 2014.
The last reported year by the NHTSA was 2015, from a study published in 2017, that found that nationwide 818 cyclists were killed in motor vehicle crashes with an additional 45,000 injured. 70 percent of the fatalities occurred in urban areas, 61 percent were at non-intersections and only 3 percent occurred in bicycle lanes. Also, regardless of season, the hours of 6 p.m. to 8:59 p.m. had the highest percentage of fatalities.
Personal Injury Cases
Even if the law does not see fit to hold someone responsible for negligence or guilty of causing an accident, that doesn’t mean victims are left to deal with the injuries and costs on their own. While legal responsibility is placed on both bicyclists and motorists to share the road, personal injury law can help with compensation and getting justice.
In fact, in Massachusetts, reporting the incident is required by law – regardless of the outcome.
“The operator of a bicycle shall report any accident involving either personal injury or property damage in excess of one hundred dollars, or both, to the police department in the city or town in which the accident occurred.”