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Cyclist's death prompts push for harsher penalties

The most common users of paved streets are motor vehicles, followed by an ever increasing population of cyclists, and the always present pedestrian. Most, if not all, motor vehicle accidents will involve some combination of the above users of the roadways. As alternate forms of transportation gain more momentum an increasing number of individuals will park their cars and opt instead to walk or ride a bike.

Supporters of stronger laws against those who injure cyclists and pedestrians gained traction as a garbage truck driver faces charges of leaving the scene of an accident that resulted in the death of a cyclist. The auto accident happened as the truck driver made a right hand turn while on his route. Unbeknownst to the driver, he performed a right-hook when his truck turned into the cyclist, who was riding beside the truck. Witnesses report that the cyclist crashed into the side of the truck, and he was pronounced dead at the scene.

Supports of a change in the law to protect vulnerable road users want harsher mandatory penalties for those involved in fatal crashes with bicycles or pedestrians. Critics of the proposed law say it does nothing to address the behavior of cyclists and pedestrians that often leads to their injuries, and that the law would penalize drivers regardless of fault.

Making a right-hook is actually illegal under Massachusetts law. The statute says that vehicles that overtake cyclists must make sure they are a safe distance away before turning in front of them. Making a showing that a party has violated state law in a civil case can go a long way in proving a party's negligence in the injury of another person. Criminal and traffic laws have their own punishments for those who violate their rules, but those same violations can be used against defendants in civil cases.

Source: Boston Globe, "Bike activists push for harsher penalties after cyclist's death," Martine Powers, April 4, 2014

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