Bicycle laws in the United States - past, present, and future.

Author:McLeod, Ken
Position:Introduction through I. Traffic Laws for Bicyclists D. Mandatory Helmet Use Laws, p. 869-894
 
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Introduction I. Traffic Laws for Bicyclists A. Laws that Affect the Treatment of Bicycles as Vehicles B. Where to Ride Laws C. Mandatory Use of Bicycle Facility Laws D. Mandatory Helmet Use Laws E. Sidewalk Riding Laws II. Traffic Laws for Motorists that Affect Bicyclists A. Safe Passing and "Three Foot" Laws B. Vulnerable Road User Laws C. "Dooring" Laws III. What Is the Future for Bicycle-Related Laws? A. Bicycling Under the Influence Laws B. Distracted Driving Laws C. "Idaho Stop," "Dead Red," and Other Laws that Create Special Rules for Bicyclists D. Laws for Electrically-Assisted Bicycles E. Laws that Alter Liability Rules Conclusion INTRODUCTION

In the last decade, bicycling has been the fastest growing mode of travel used to commute to work. (1) Many states, cities, and the federal government have shown an interest in promoting bicycle use. Despite this increase, there are substantial misunderstandings about the laws that govern bicyclist behavior and laws that govern how bicyclists and motorists share our nation's roadways. (2) It is my hope that this article clears up misunderstandings and explains features of bicycle-related laws through documenting the evolution of bicycle-related traffic laws. It will also look at examples of potential new types of legislation that might legitimize and promote bicycling. Much of this Article draws upon the research I have done for the League of American Bicyclists, digesting every state law mentioning bicycling and compiling my findings in 2012. (3)

Many traffic laws in place today are related to the Uniform Vehicle Code (UVC). The UVC was created in 1926 by the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances (NCUTLO). (4) The National Council on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (NCUTCD) and NCUTLO have been tied together through their history, including the early creation of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices and Uniform Vehicle Code. (5) In the early 2000's, the NCUTLO ceased operations and no longer maintains the UVC. (6) Since that time, the NCUTCD has taken steps to update the UVC. (7) The last version of the UVC was published in 2000. (8) It is not clear at this time whether the NCUTCD will be a long-term replacement for the NCUTLO or whether an alternative body or system for state traffic law coordination will emerge. Whatever the future holds, organizations will continue to pursue uniformity in traffic laws to aid public education, messaging, and the ability to safely travel between the states.

While the NCUTLO was active, it published periodic reviews of traffic laws to promote uniformity throughout the nation. While the publication of such comprehensive reviews is historically inconsistent, (9) at least two are publicly available through online resources such as Google Books. (10) This Article will use two NCUTLO publications, Traffic Laws Annotated 1972 and 1979 (collectively, "Traffic Laws Annotated"),

to look at the evolution of traffic laws as documented by those publications and the state of traffic laws relevant to bicyclists as reviewed in those publications. (11) Since the 1970s, there has been significantly less publicly available, organized documentation of traffic laws and their conformity with the UVC or with alternative standards. (12) In addition to the above highlighted laws, this Article will rely upon four additional publications. (13)

In 1982, Edward Kearney, at that the time the Executive Director of the NCUTLO and later author of Bicycle Law and Practice, (14) wrote an article for American Wheelmen magazine titled What's the Legal Climate for Bicyclists in Your State? (15) That article looks at ten different types of traffic laws and compares them to UVC provisions using a ten-point scoring system with unique scoring criteria for each type of law. (16) In some cases, the scoring system makes it obvious what the state's law says, but in others there are multiple ways in which states could achieve the same score, making it difficult to know what a particular score means. (17) Kearney's article provides a useful snapshot of laws as well as the priorities of bicycling advocates in the early 1980s.

Unfortunately, no useful compilation or review of bicycle-related laws could be found from the early 1990s. During this time, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) published A Synthesis of Existing Bicyclist and Pedestrian Related Laws and Enforcement Programs which provides a limited understanding of state laws as of 1993. (18) However, the publication failed to provide a comprehensive analysis of bicycle-related laws, and individual state laws cannot be disaggregated from the information that is provided. (19) The focus of this publication, rather, was promoting best practices and FHWA model legislation, so it contains some useful discussions for why certain laws are preferable or may be controversial.

Another pertinent publication for the purposes of this Article is Bicycle Laws: A Survey and Comparison of Regulations in Virginia and the Nation by Barbara Scheib of the Virginia Transportation Research Council, as part of a project initiated by the Virginia Department of Transportation. (20) The publication looks at ten types of laws, but only four of the laws examined overlapped with Kearney's analysis in 1982. (21) Unlike the FHWA publication in 1993, Scheib did include a review of each state's laws. (22) Scheib did not use particular criteria or a defined comparative scheme for examining each state's law, but generally looked at whether state laws provided a rule or not and, for certain laws, provided additional information. (23)

Lastly, in 2002, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published a Resource Guide of Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Laws (NHTSA Guide). (24) This publication is unique in that it was published as a CD-ROM and meant to be used like a computer program. Perhaps due to its unique format, the NHTSA Guide has a complicated comparative scheme that relies upon the UVC, state laws, and municipal and proposed model ordinances in addition to the author's examination of the safety relevance of each type of law. (25)

Unfortunately, the NHTSA Guide does not always provide a clear picture of state law in the same way the Traffic Laws Annotated publications do. Traffic Laws Annotated compares each state's law to current or previous versions of the UVC and provides full excerpts where there are significant differences. The NHTSA Guide does not provide the same clarity because it only references the 2000 version of the UVC, and it provides a paragraph explaining differences rather than full excerpts. When a state's law is based on a previous version of the UVC, rather than the 2000 version, or uses any language that is not exactly the same as the 2000 version of the UVC, it is noted as an "equivalent" or "variation." (26) While it is possible to reconstruct statutory language from the paragraph explanations of differences, the comparative scheme chosen for the NHTSA Guide does not seem to be an improvement upon Traffic Laws Annotated and is significantly more complicated.

Due to the variations in laws examined and comparative schemes, it is difficult to say exactly how particular state laws have changed without an examination of the history of each law in each state. However, major changes in laws can be found over time, such as a state having a type of law that it did not have before or having a type of provision that was examined in the comparative scheme of one of the publications reviewed. This Article will use these notable changes and the types of law that were examined to discuss the evolution of bicycle-related laws in the United States. This Article focuses on traffic laws that affect the behavior of bicyclists...

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