In recent years as more and more people ride bicycles in the Washington area, laws and regulations have been changing to try to make bicycle riding safer for bicyclists and motorists. Some of the laws vary depending upon the local jurisdiction, so it may be helpful to review those laws.
In both Maryland and the District of Columbia, the laws start with the principle that a bicycle being operated on a public highway is treated like a vehicle and is subject to laws governing the movement of traffic, except of course where special laws or regulations apply.
Many of the laws are consistent, such as bicyclists being required to be operated as close as practical for safe operation to the right side of a lane of traffic, except on a one way street or when turning left. Bicycles can be ridden two abreast in a lane of traffic only if traffic is not impeded.
Examples of some laws that vary depending on the jurisdiction include that in Washington D.C., despite the fact that bicycle lanes are becoming more common, even where a bike lane is present a bicyclist need not us the lane unless a sign requires it.
In Maryland, if a bike lane is provided a bicyclist must use it. In D.C., operating a bicycle on a sidewalk is allowed except in the central business district.
Maryland law provides that bicycles shall not be ridden on sidewalks unless the County law allows it. The Montgomery County Code allows bicycles to be ridden on sidewalks, but bicyclists must yield the right of way to pedestrians.
An upcoming change of the law in Maryland, effective October 1, 2017, will clarify that bicyclists will have the same right of way as pedestrians in marked cross-walks, so that motorists will have to yield to bicyclists lawfully in a cross-walk.
On the civil side, last December the law in the District of Columbia changed to limit the defense of contributory negligence of a bicyclist in a lawsuit with a motorist which previously barred recovery for damages if the fault of the bicyclist was a cause of the injury.
Under the new law the negligence of a bicyclist shall not bar the plaintiff’s recovery in any civil action unless the plaintiff’s negligence is a cause of the injury and greater than the fault of the motorist.
Thomas Patrick Ryan is a partner in the Rockville law firm of McCarthy Wilson, which specializes in civil litigation.