- Bicycles are Traffic and Belong on Maine’s Roadways
In Maine, bicycle riders are included within the definition of “traffic” and should be treated as part of Maine’s traffic system. See 29-A M.R.S.A. § 101 (82).
- Rights and Responsibilities
In general, a person riding a bicycle in Maine has all of the rights and duties of a driver of a vehicle under the Maine Motor Vehicle and Traffic Code, except for special regulations specific to bicycles and those provisions that by their nature can have no application. 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2063(5).
- Special Regulations
Some of the special regulations that apply to bicycle riders in Maine give them additional protections because bicycle riders are vulnerable users of Maine’s ways. 29-A M.R.S.A. § 101 (91-A) (defining vulnerable users to include bicyclists). They are not encased in steel coating like people traveling in motor vehicles. Id. Like children walking to school, people in wheelchairs, construction workers and flaggers, bicycle riders are at an increased risk of harm when motor vehicle operators drive dangerously around them. Id.
Safe Positioning and Where Bicyclists May Ride
- Riding as “Far Right as Practicable” Versus Riding in Other Locations
Deciding the safest location to ride on the road in Maine is highly circumstantial. Maine law has a provision in it that requires bicyclists to ride “as far right as practicable” under certain circumstances. See 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2063. However, that requirement is not absolute. Id. While riding on the far right portion of a roadway is often lawful and appropriate, Maine law also affords bicyclists considerable discretion to choose to ride in other portions of the public way. See id. For example, and without limitation, bicycle riders need not ride “as far right as practicable” when they are traveling the normal speed of traffic, when passing another bicyclist, preparing to make a left-hand turn, avoiding parked cars, potholes, sand piles, glass, garbage, ice patches, snow build up or other hazards, and/or at times when they are traveling in lanes with substandard widths. See id.
Maine law allows bicyclists to travel on the shoulders of pubic ways. See 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2063.
- Separated Facilities
Maine’s Motor Vehicle and Traffic Code does not have any statutes requiring bicycle riders to use separated facilities. However, some municipal ordinances have provisions requiring bicyclists to ride in certain locations. 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2063. To be enforceable, however, those ordinances must be approved by the Department of Public Safety and the Department of Transportation. See 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2063. Often, finding out whether an ordinance has been properly noticed, presented and approved requires research at the municipal and state levels.
- Sidewalk Riding
Maine’s Motor Vehicle and Traffic Code does not explicitly prohibit bicyclists from riding on sidewalks, but there are some municipal ordinances that do. Reasonable minds can differ on whether a particular rider is safer on the roadway or a sidewalk. Often the answer depends on the time, place and circumstances, as well as the skill level of the rider and surrounding infrastructure. Motor vehicle operators entering and exiting intersections near schools, parks, shopping plazas and other locations where bicycle riders, pedestrians and others may be riding on and using sidewalks should exercise heightened vigilance. In Maine, drivers have a common law duty to see what is there to be seen on a public way, including bicyclists who are open and obviously riding on sidewalks or crosswalks bridging sidewalks.
Bicycle Direction of Travel
- Ways Used for Vehicular Traffic
When a bicycle rider elects to ride on the “way” used for vehicular traffic, the bicycle rider must ride in the same direction as vehicular traffic on the way, unless otherwise allowed by law or special regulation. See 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2063(5), “Way,” as defined in the Motor Vehicle and Traffic Code, means “the entire width between boundary lines of a road, highway, parkway, street or bridge used for vehicular traffic, whether public or private.” See 29-A M.R.S.A. § 101 (92) (emphasis added). The definition of “way” does not appear to include sidewalks because sidewalks are not used for vehicular traffic.
- Public Ways Posted For One-Way Traffic
On a public way posted for one-way traffic, a bicycle may be driven only in the direction designated. See 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2059 together with 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2063(5). “Public way,” as defined in the Motor Vehicle and Traffic Code, means “the entire width between boundary lines of a road, highway, parkway, street or bridge used for vehicular traffic, whether public or private.” See 29-A M.R.S.A. § 101 (59) (emphasis added). “Way,” as defined in the Motor Vehicle and Traffic Code, means “the entire width between boundary lines of a road, highway, parkway, street or bridge used for vehicular traffic, whether public or private.” See 29-A M.R.S.A. § 101 (92) (emphasis added). Again, the definitions of “way” and “public way” do not appear to include sidewalks because sidewalks are not used for vehicular traffic.
Harassment of Bicyclists
- “Punishment Passes,” “Brake Jobs” and Other Dangerous Driving Around Bicyclists.
It is unlawful to intentionally or unintentionally come within three feet of a bicyclist while passing the bicyclist, to brake suddenly in front a bicyclist in a manner that does not give the bicyclist sufficient time to perceive and react to danger, or to otherwise use a motor vehicle to threaten or harass a bicycle rider or a group of riders. Depending on the circumstance, this type of behavior may not only constitute a violation of Maine’s Safe Passing Statute and a breach of common law duties of care, but it may also be considered a violation of Maine’s Criminal Threatening Statute, Maine’s Driving to Endanger Statute and/or Maine’s Terrorizing Statute.
- Placement of Substances on the Way
One of the ways that a motor vehicle operator may proximately cause harm to a bicyclist or become legally responsible for a bicyclist’s crash and related injuries without actually making contact with a bicyclist is where the operator intentionally or unintentionally places dangerous substances on the roadway (e.g. glass, tacks, etc.) and/or allows dangerous substances to fall from his or her vehicle (e.g. gravel, sand, woodchips, concrete). Obligations to keep the way free of these injurious items, as well as to return to clean them up if they unintentionally fall from a vehicle, are outlined in 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2396.
- Startling and Throwing Objects at Animals v. Startling and Throwing Objects at Bicyclists
In Maine, we have a statute that states that a motor vehicle operator may not knowingly operate a motor vehicle in a manner to annoy, startle, harass or frighten an animal being ridden or driven on or near a public way. See 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2055 (4). Likewise, we have a statute that provides that an operator or person in a motor vehicle may not throw an object or substance from the vehicle toward an animal being ridden or driven on or near a public way. See 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2055 (5). There are no such similar statutes in Maine with respect to bicyclists. However, motorists and others owe common law duties of reasonable care to bicyclists. To the extent that a person yells, startles, throws something at you, and/or harasses or frightens you while you are out riding your bike, there are remedies that you may be able to pursue, regardless of whether there is a crash. Likewise, the behavior described above may inferentially constitute criminally-chargeable behavior when directed at bicyclists under Maine’s Criminal Threatening Statute, Maine’s Terrorizing Statute, or Maine’s Driving to Endanger Statute. Having a camera on your bicyclist recording this behavior and identifying information regarding the driver and vehicle may help a District Attorney’s decision on whether to pursue the wrongdoer(s).
A motor vehicle operator is prohibited from unnecessarily sounding a horn. 29-A M.R.S.A. §1903. There is a difference between a gentle beep and use of a horn to harass or startle.
Passing and the Details of Maine’s Safe Passing Statute
- Maine’s Three Foot Law
An operator of a motor vehicle that is passing a bicycle proceeding in the same direction must exercise due care by leaving a distance between the motor vehicle and the bicycle or roller skier of not less than three (3) feet while the motor vehicle is passing the bicycle. See 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2070 (1-A). Note that this is a minimum standard. Sometimes more space is required by law as part of an operator’s reasonable duty of care. For example, operators traveling at high rates of speed and/or operating large vehicles like tractor trailers, logging trucks or tankers arguably have a duty to leave additional space depending on wind tunnel or other effect that their passing may have on a bicycle rider.
- Passing a Bicyclist in a No-Passing Zone / Moving to the Left of a Double Yellow to Pass a Bicyclist
Maine’s safe passing statute provides that a motor vehicle operator may pass a bicycle traveling in the same direction in a no-passing zone only when it is safe to do so. 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2070 (1-A). This subsection of the Safe Passing Statute may be read to suggest that, in general, motorists may lawfully cross a double yellow line to pass bicycle riders when it is safe to do so. However, reading the statute as a whole, an argument could also be made that an emergency must exist (as stated in the exceptions to the prohibitions set forth in 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2070(5)) before an operator is even allowed to consider passing a bicyclist in a no passing zone. Either way, a pass of a bicyclist should not be attempted by a motorist unless it is safe for all users of the roadway, including the bicyclist, the motorist, the motorist’s passengers, and those in the oncoming lane of traffic. See generally, 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2070.
- Returning to the Right After Passing a Bicyclist
- Prima Facie Evidence Provision
In Maine, the collision of a motor vehicle with a person operating a bicycle is prima facie evidence of a violation of Maine’s safe passing of a bicycle statute. See 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2070 (1-A). In a civil case, this means that there will be a presumption that the safe passing of a bicycle subsection of Maine’s safe passing statute was violated by the motor vehicle operator and the motor vehicle operator will have the burden of proving otherwise. See M.R. Evid. 301. In a criminal case, “[t]he court may not direct a verdict against an accused based on a presumption or statutory provisions that certain facts are prima facie evidence of other facts or of guilt.” M.R. Evid. 303. However, [t]he court may permit a jury to infer guilt or a fact relevant to guilt based on a statutory or common law presumption or prima facie evidence, if the evidence as a whole supports guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” Id.
- Passing on the Right
A person operating a bicycle may pass a vehicle on the right at the bicyclist’s own risk. 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2070 (6). In 2014, Maine’s highest court made it clear that the “at the bicyclist’s own risk” language does not mean that a bicyclist injured while passing on the right has assumed the risk of harm and is barred from bringing a claim. See Semian v. Ledgemere Transp., Inc. 2014 ME 141, 106 A. 3d 405. However, when a bicyclist is injured while passing on the right, Maine’s comparative fault statute may become part of the legal analysis and a judge and/or a jury are able to consider whether it was reasonable for the bicyclist to assume the risk of passing on the right at that time and place.
Turning and Movements on a Public Way
- Right Turns Near Bicyclists / Maine’s “Right Hook” Law
A person operating a motor vehicle near a person operating a bicycle and proceeding in the same direction may not make a right turn unless the turn can be made with reasonable safety and without interfering with the safe and legal operation of the bicycle. 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2060 (1-A).
- Left Turns Near Bicyclists
An operator intending to turn to the left must yield the right-of-way to traffic (including bicycle traffic) approaching from the opposite direction that is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard. See 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2060(2); see also 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2053(5).
- Right or Left Movements on a Public Way
“An operator may not turn a vehicle or move right or left on a public way unless the movement can be made with reasonable safety.” 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2071(1)
- Signaling Requirements for Motorists
A motor vehicle operator may not turn a vehicle without giving an appropriate signal if other traffic may be affected by that movement, and a turn signal must be given continuously during at least the last 100 feet traveled before turning. 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2071 (2). Bicyclists are included in the definition of “traffic” under Maine law and, as such, motorists are required to timely signal their intentions to bicyclists the same way that they signal for other motor vehicle traffic.
- Signaling Requirements for Bicyclists
Bicyclists are required by law to signal their traffic movements. See generally, 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2071 together with 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2063(5). Like motor vehicle operators, should give their signals continuously during the last 100 feet traveled before turning. Id.
Under Maine law, signals by hand and arm must be given by the bicyclist’s left arm in the following manner:
- To indicate a left turn, the hand and arm must be extended horizontally;
- To indicate a right turn, the hand and arm must be extended upward, except that a person who is operating a bicycle is not in violation of this subsection if the person signals a right turn by extending the person’s right hand and arm horizontally;
- To indicate a stop or a decrease in speed, the hand and arm must be extended downward.
29-A M.R.S.A. § 2071. Importantly, a person operating a bicycle is allowed to return the hand used to signal a turn to the handlebars during the turn to maintain proper control of the bicycle. Id.
- Posted Speed Limit
Bicyclists traveling on a way have the same obligation as motor vehicle operators to honor the posted speed limit, unless traffic, surface and width of the way and other conditions require otherwise. See generally 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2074 together with 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2063 (5).
- Bicyclists Traveling at the Normal Speed of Traffic
Bicyclists traveling at the normal speed of traffic at that time and place and/or at the posted speed limit should not be expected to move to the right or ride as far right as practicable, as riding with normal speed of traffic and/or at the speed limit does not constitute “impeding traffic.” See generally 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2063 together with 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2075.
- Duty to Operate at a Careful and Prudent Speed Near Bicycle Riders
Motor vehicle operators are required to operate their vehicles at a careful and prudent speeds “not greater than is reasonable and proper having due regard to the traffic, surface and width of the way and of other conditions then existing.” 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2074. “Traffic,” as defined in the Maine Motor Vehicle and Traffic Code, and in the context of this statute, includes bicycle traffic. 29-A M.R.S.A. § 101 (82). Motor vehicle operators should not only give due regard to the presence of bicycle traffic on the way when choosing the speed at which to operate, but they should also think about their vehicle’s speed as it relates to bicyclists’ ability to navigate the surface of the way and weather conditions. See 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2074; Reed v. Rule, 376 A.2d 445 (Me. 1977) (determining that a directed verdict in a bicycle-motor vehicle case had been improper because a jury question existed regarding whether driver’s speed was reasonable and prudent in light of the bicyclist in the roadway, the damp roadway and other conditions then existing). Motor vehicle operators should also consider whether the width of the way requires them to slow in order to safely pass or operate near a bicyclist. See 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2074; see also 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2070 (1-A). In addition, they should give due regard to the age, experience, stability, movements and signals of bicyclists on the roadway when selecting operational speed.
- Statutory Cap on the Speed of Motorized Bicycles
An operator of a motorized bicycle is prohibited from traveling at a speed over 20mph. See 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2063 (6).
Following Too Closely
A motor vehicle operator may not follow a bicycle rider more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of the bicycle, the vehicle, the traffic (including bicycle traffic) and the condition of the way. See generally 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2066 together with 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2063 (5). Likewise, bicycle riders have a reciprocal obligation not to follow motor vehicles too closely, taking the same factors into consideration. See id.
In Maine, people may not open the doors of a motor vehicle on the side of moving traffic (including bicycle traffic) unless opening the door is reasonably safe to do and can be done without interfering with the movement of traffic. See 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2068(4) (parking statute) together with 29-A M.R.S.A. § 101 (82) (including bicyclists in the definition of “traffic”). Maine has not yet adopted a law requiring the “Dutch Reach,” but this is a practice that neighboring Massachusetts incorporates into its driver’s education manual and one people in Maine could adopt voluntarily.
Stop Signs, Yield Signs, and Traffic Control Devices
- Stop Signs and Traffic Control Devices
Bicyclists in Maine are required to stop at stop signs and obey traffic control devices. See 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2063 (11 &12).
- No “Idaho Stop”
Maine does not have an “Idaho Stop” law.
- Yield Signs
A person commits a Class E crime if the person operates a vehicle past a yield sign and collides with a vehicle, person riding a bicycle or pedestrian proceeding on the intersecting way. See 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2057 (10). A person commits a traffic infraction if the person operates a vehicle or a bicycle past a yield sign and fails to yield the right-of-way to a vehicle, person riding a bicycle or pedestrian proceeding on the intersecting way. See 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2057 (10-A). Note that these provisions place duties on bicyclists and motor vehicles alike to comply with signs that require them to yield to pedestrians, vehicles and other bicyclists. Id.
- Bicycling Under the Influence / Open Container Laws
In Maine, the law that prohibits driving while under the influence of alcohol or other controlled substances is written so that it applies to motor vehicle operators and, therefore, does not directly apply to bicyclists. However, the analysis does not stop there. If there is admissible evidence of impaired bicycling, a comparative negligence analysis may apply. Also note that despite the fact that Maine’s OUI statutes may not apply to bicyclists, Maine’s open container statute does appear to apply to bicyclists via operation of section 2063(5). See 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2112-A together with 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2063(5).
A person operating a bicycle may not ride other than upon or astride a regular and permanently attached seat. 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2063(3).
- Number of People
A bicycle may not be used to carry more persons than the number for which it is designed and equipped. 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2063(3-A).
- Hitching Rides
A person riding on roller skis, a bicycle or a scooter may not attach it to a moving vehicle on a way. 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2063(4).
- School Buses
A person riding a bicycle on a way, in a parking area, on school property, on meeting or overtaking a school bus from either direction when the bus has stopped with its red lights flashing to receive or discharge passengers, shall stop the bicycle before reaching the school bus. The person may not proceed until the school bus resumes motion or until signaled by the school bus operator to proceed. 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2063(9).
Sharing Space with Pedestrians
- Common Law Duties of Care
Bicyclists and pedestrians owe one another general common law duties of care when sharing ways, public ways, sidewalks, shoulders, trails and other common areas.
- Maine’s Pedestrian Statute
Like motor vehicle operators, when riding bicycles on Maine’s ways, bicyclists are required to follow the laws set forth in Maine’s Pedestrian Statute. For example, bicycle riders must yield to pedestrians in and intending to enter marked crosswalks. See 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2056 (4) together with 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2063 (5). In addition, bicycle riders must exercise due care to avoid hitting pedestrians. See 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2056 (8) together with 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2063 (5). However, for the protection of bicyclists and others, pedestrians are prohibited from suddenly leaving a curb or other place of safety and walking or running into the path of a bicyclist that is so close that it is impossible for the operator of the bicyclist to yield to the pedestrian. 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2056 (6) together with 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2063 (5).
- Bicycle / Pedestrian Crashes
Unfortunately, bicycle / pedestrian crashes are becoming increasingly common in Maine due to unsafe speeds, distracted operation or walking, inattention, motor vehicle interplay, and/or other factors. In the event of a bicycle v. pedestrian crash, insurance issues may sometimes become even more complicated than a motor vehicle v. bicyclist case. It is important to gather full contact information and insurance information for all persons involved in the crash, including any motor vehicle operator that may have been involved in the crash (even if there was no contact or collision with the motor vehicle). It is also important to report to the crash to the police and get a detailed incident report, even if the police indicate that they elect not to prepare a crash report.
Equipment and Accessories
Persons Under Sixteen: A person under 16 years of age who is an operator or a passenger on a bicycle on a public roadway or a public bikeway is required to wear a helmet of good fit, positioned properly and fastened securely upon the head by helmet straps. 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2323.
Adults and Persons Sixteen and Over: Use of helmet is not legally required for persons over the age of 16 operating bicycles in Maine.
- Bicycle Taxi Passengers
Bicycle taxi passengers are exempt from the Bicycle and Roller Safety Education Act, thereby making the helmet mandate in 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2323 inapplicable to persons under 16 years of age who are passengers in a bicycle taxi. See 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2327. However, this does not eliminate any common law duties of care that bicycle taxi operators and/or owners may have to ensure the safety of their passengers.
- Evidentiary Note
The nonuse of a helmet by the operator of the bicycle or the operator’s passenger is not admissible as evidence in a civil or criminal trial. 29-A M.R.S.A. §2328.
- Lights and Reflectors
In “nighttime” bicycle crash cases, lighting can sometimes be a factor in allocating fault. When a crash occurs, it is important that law enforcement and others look not only at the lighting on a bicycle (or that may have come off a bicycle and be located in or around the collision site), but also at the lighting of a motor vehicle, street and environmental lighting, and lighting on the bicycle rider. Below are some of the laws that apply to motor vehicles and bicycles.
- Motor Vehicle Lighting Requirements
Motor vehicles that are capable of travel above 15mph are required to be equipped with headlights that allow their operators to see “any substantial object clearly discernible on a level way at least 200 feet directly ahead and at the same time at least 7 feet to the right of the axis of the vehicle for a distance of at least 100 feet.” See 29-A M.R.S.A. § 1904.
Presumably “any substantial object” includes a bicycle rider.Motor vehicle operators must have their headlights illuminated: (A) from sunset to sunrise; (B) at any time when, due to insufficient light or unfavorable atmospheric conditions, including, but not limited to, rain, freezing rain, fog or snow, persons (including bicycle riders) or vehicles on the way are not discernible for a distance of 1,000 feet ahead; and (C) at any point in time when windshield wipers are in constant use. See 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2067. However, these laws do not apply to a vehicle that is parked or standing off the main traveled portion of the way. See id.
- Bicycle Lighting and Reflector Requirements
When a bicycle is used in the “nighttime”, the bicycle must have: (1) a lit front light that emits a white light visible from a distance of at least 200 feet to the front; (2) a red or amber light or reflector to the rear that is visible at least 200 feet to the rear; and (3) reflector material on the pedals, unless the bicyclist is wearing reflective material on the feet or ankles. 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2084. Note that the term “nighttime” should not be taken literally and is misleading to readers of the statute. “Nighttime” as defined in the Motor Vehicle and Traffic Code, is “a time other than daytime.” 29-A M.R.S.A. § 101(46). And, “daytime” means “any time from 1/2 hour before sunrise to 1/2 hour after sunset.” 29-A M.R.S.A. § 101(20).
Maine law also provides that “[a] bicyclist may also use optional supplementary reflectors, lights or reflective or lighted safety equipment.” 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2084.
Brakes and braking distance sometimes come into play in bicycle cases. As is the case with lighting, it is important to look not only at the equipment laws that apply to bicyclists, but also those that apply to motor vehicles.
Motor vehicle brakes: As a general rule, “[a] motor vehicle must have adequate brakes in good working order that are sufficient to control the vehicle.” 29-A M.R.S.A. § 1902. Brakes must be adjusted so as to stop an A 2-wheel brake vehicle, within a distance of 45 feet, from a speed of 20 miles per hour; a 4-wheel brake vehicle, within 30 feet, from a speed of 20 miles per hour; or a motorcycle, within 30 feet, from a speed of 20 miles per hour. Id.
Bicycle brakes: A bicycle must be equipped with a brake sufficient to enable the operator to stop the vehicle or device within a reasonable distance. 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2084.
- Garmins, Go Pros, Black Boxes, Event Data Recorders, and Other Recording Devices
Many bicyclists and motor vehicle operators use and/or carry cameras, GPS devices, and other tracking and recording devices. These devices are generally not prohibited by law and can be helpful in the event of a crash. For more on the hidden benefits and dangers of these devices, read Attorney Boxer-Macomber’s blog post here. For more on evidentiary issues surrounding some of these devices, read what Attorney Boxer-Macomber has to say in this Bicycling Magazine piece.
- Detection Devices
Bicyclists in Maine are not required to use detection devices for the benefit of the owners of driverless or other vehicles.
Under Maine law, distracted driving is defined as operating a motor vehicle while engaged in an activity that is not necessary to the operation of the vehicle and that actually impairs, or would reasonably be expected to impair, the ability of the person to safely operate the vehicle. See 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2118. Distracted driving is not limited to distractions like texting and talking on a cell phone. It includes cognitive (e.g. inattention), manual (e.g. “reaching for a phone, a radio nob, lipstick), and physical distractions (e.g. papers, devices, food).
Maine’s primary distracted driving statutes are discussed below. Bicyclists are not afforded any special protections under these statutes. The statutes also do not appear to apply to bicyclists, as they explicitly discuss the operation of motor vehicles. However, bicyclists should keep in mind that they have common law duties to other traffic to be attentive and see what is there to be seen on the roadway.
- Failure to Maintain Control
A person who: (1) commits a traffic infraction under Title 29-A (Maine’s Motor Vehicle and Traffic Code), (2) commits the crime of driving to endanger under 29-A M.R.S.A. §2413, and/or (3) is determined to have been the operator of a motor vehicle that was involved in a reportable accident as defined in 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2251(1) that resulted in property damage and at the time of the traffic infraction, crime, and/or reportable accident was engaged in the operation of a motor vehicle while distracted, may be cited for the traffic infraction of “failure to maintain control of a motor vehicle.” See 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2118. In addition, the distracted driver may receive a criminal summons and/or civil citation for the underlying violation.
- Prohibition Against Texting
In Maine, “[a] person may not operate a motor vehicle while engaging in text messaging.”
29-A M.R.S.A. § 2119. “‘Text messaging’ means reading or manually composing electronic communications, including text messages, instant messages and e-mails, using a portable electronic device.” Id. “‘Text messaging’ does not include using a global positioning or navigation system.” Id.
- Evidentiary Issues in Distracted Driving Cases
In State of Maine v. Palmer, 2017 ME 183, Maine’s highest court held that distracted driving can be proven by circumstantial evidence. Attorney Boxer-Macomber was among the attorneys who wrote a friend of the Court brief on behalf of the Maine Trial Lawyers Association and the Bicycle Coalition of Maine in support of this outcome. She discusses the importance of the decision here. Bicyclists, police and witnesses should take steps at a crash scene to help preserve as much circumstantial evidence of distracted driving as possible. Talking to competent legal counsel as soon as possible can also be helpful to the preservation of both direct and circumstantial evidence of distracted driving.
Laws and Regulations Pertaining to Special Types of Bikes
- Bicycle Taxis
Bicycle Taxis are generally regulated as bicycles under Maine law. However, bicycle passengers are exempt from the Bicycle and Roller Skier Safety Education Act. See 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2327.
- Motorized Bicycles
Under Maine law, a motorized bicycle is defined as a bicycle that: “A. May have pedals to permit human propulsion; and B. Has a motor attached to a wheel that is rated at no more than 1.5 brake horsepower and has a cylinder capacity capable of propelling the vehicle unassisted at a speed of 25 miles per hour or less on a level road surface.” See 29-A M.R.S.A. § 101 (41). Motorized bikes are treated as bicycles under 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2063. Lighting and reflector laws that apply to bicycles, also apply to motorized bicycles. See 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2084. However, an operator of a motorized bicycle is prohibited from traveling at a speed over 20mph. 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2063 (6).
Maine law on e-bikes is murky at best. While e-bikes are ridden regularly within the State of Maine, they have yet to earn themselves a place in the definitions section of the Maine Motor Vehicle and Traffic Code. As things presently stand, depending on the class, category, specifications, and primary way that an e-bike is used and/or propelled, it may qualify as a “bicycle,” a “motorized bicycle,” a “moped” or even possibly—but not likely—a “vehicle” or a “motorized vehicle.” See 29-A M.R.S.A. § 101 (9), (36) (41), (42) and (91) (defining these terms). In some cases, an e-bike may even fall under several of the definitions referenced above, subjecting it to conflicting laws and regulations. There is also ambiguity in Maine law as to whether e-bikes need to be inspected and/or registered, as well as on whether a person needs to have a license to operate an e-bike. Again, the answer may vary depending on the e-bike. Furthermore, Maine law and local ordinances offer little to no direction on which rules of the road apply to e-bikes and where e-bike riders may ride.
The Bicycle Coalition of Maine and People for Bikes are presently exploring options for improving Maine’s legislation. Model legislation from California, Utah and other states, as well the answers to frequently asked questions about e-bikes can be found in this piece co-authored by Lauri. In addition, Lauri talks more about e-bike law in the 2017 Fall/Winter Edition of the Maine Cyclist.
Under common law, owners and keepers of dogs owe a general duty of care to bicyclists. If bicyclist is harmed by a negligent dog owner or keeper, liability for a bicyclist’s damages may attach, even if the dog was not dangerous or aggressive at the time it caused harm to a bicyclist. In addition, there are several Maine statutes that may come into play in dog v. bike rider cases. Those statutes are referenced below and can afford additional protections to a bicyclist involved in a dog v. bike rider crash.
- Bicycle Rider Damaged by Negligence of Animal Owner or Keeper
In Maine, when a dog or other animal damages a person or that person’s property due to negligence of the animal’s owner or keeper, the owner or keeper of that animal is liable in a civil action to the person injured for the amount of damage done if the damage was not occasioned through the fault of the person injured. See 7 M.R.S.A. § 3961. Also, “when a dog injures a person who is not on the owner’s or keeper’s premises at the time of the injury, the owner or keeper of the dog is liable in a civil action to the person injured for the amount of the damages.” Id. Further, “[a]ny fault on the part of the person injured may not reduce the damages recovered for physical injury to that person unless the court determines that the fault of the person injured exceeded the fault of the dog’s keeper or owner.” Id.
- Bicycle Rider Harmed by a Dog at Large
In Maine, “[i]t is unlawful for any dog, licensed or unlicensed, to be at large, except when used for hunting.” 7 M.R.S.A. § 3911. A violation of this statute by an owner or keeper is evidence of the owner and/or keeper’s negligence.
- Bicycle Rider Injured by a Dangerous Dog Following a Special Order Pertaining to that Dog
If a dog, whose owner or keeper refuses or neglects to comply with a court order applicable to the owner’s dangerous dog, wounds any person by a sudden assault, the owner or keeper shall pay the person injured treble damages and costs to be recovered by a civil action. 7 M.R.S.A. § 3952.
Often homeowner, property, and/or rental will apply in dog cases, so if you are injured by a dog it is important to get the names, contract information and insurance for the dog owner, keeper and property owner. In addition, it is important to report incidents to local animal control officers, particularly when an incident involves a dangerous dog. Depending on the circumstances, a citation may be issued by an animal control officer and/or a parallel civil or criminal proceeding may be commenced by the District Attorney. These cases, although seemingly simple, can quickly become complex.
Crashes: Rights and Responsibilities
If you are involved with a bicycle crash, tips for caring for yourself, protecting yourself, preserving evidence, and getting assistance can be found here. Below are some of Maine’s laws that relate to the crash reporting and other statutory duties of persons involved in “reportable accidents.”
- Bicycle Crashes are Generally “Reportable Accidents”
In Maine, a “reportable accident” is “an accident on a public way or a place where public traffic may reasonably be anticipated, resulting in bodily injury or death to a person or apparent property damage of $1,000 or more.” See 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2251(1) (emphasis added). Note that the “or” in this definition. If either condition exists, make sure your crash is reported to 911 and/or the police.
- Duty to Stop at or Near Scene and Return to Scene
The operator of a vehicle (or the operator of a bicyclist) involved in an “accident” anywhere that results in personal injury or death to a person shall immediately stop at the scene of the accident or as close as possible, and should immediately return to the scene. See 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2252(1) together with 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2063(5).
- Duty to Provide Information
At a crash scene, persons involved in a crash may be asked to provide their names, addresses, vehicle registration numbers, licenses, and evidence of liability insurance or financial responsibility. See 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2252(2)
- Duty to Render Assistance
The operator of a vehicle (or the operator of a bicyclist) involved in a crash should render assistance to any injured person. See 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2252(3).
Vulnerable Road User Laws
Maine does not have the type of vulnerable user laws recommended by the American League of Bicyclists. However, the Maine Legislature has taken the initial step of including and defining the term “vulnerable user” in its Traffic and Safety Code. In Maine, a “vulnerable user” means “a person on a public way who is more vulnerable to injury than a person in an automobile, truck or other similar motor vehicle” and includes a person riding a bicycle. See 29-A M.R.S.A. § 101 (91-A). Maine has also enacted legislation to require all state approved driver’s education programs to include instruction that imparts the understanding and skills necessary to operate a motor vehicle safely in a situation in which a motorcycle or vulnerable user is sharing the road with that motor vehicle. See 29-A M.R.S.A. § 1351.
Maine’s Comparative Negligence Statute
In Maine, when a bicycle crash (or a “bicycle accident”) occurs, the law requires factfinders to look at the totality of the circumstances to determine who should be responsible for the crash and to what degree. Under our state’s comparative negligence law (14 M.R.S.A. §156), each person or entity involved in a bicycle crash is held responsible for damages in proportion to his/her/its own percentage of fault, unless the fault allocated to the bicyclist bringing a claim (i.e. “the plaintiff”) reaches fifty percent (50%). If an injured bicyclist is found equally or more responsible for a crash than a driver or other entity that also caused the crash, the bicyclist will not be able to recover damages (e.g. money for medical bills, pain and suffering lost wages, etc.). However, if the bicyclist is 49.9999% or less at fault, the bicyclist can recover damages, although the bicyclist’s damages will be reduced by the degree of the bicyclist’s degree of fault.
Example: Sam is right-hooked while riding with reflectors, but no lights, at 11:30pm in a partially lit neighborhood. A jury finds that the driver who made the unsafe right turn in front of Sam to be 80% at fault for the crash. It finds Sam to be 20% at fault. The damages award is $100,000. Sam can only recover $80,000. If Sam and the driver were each 50% at fault, Sam would recover nothing.
Victim Blaming and Bystander Action
Bicyclists and other vulnerable users involved in crashes are often the target of “victim blaming,” particularly in light of Maine’s Comparative Negligence Statute. If you are involved in a crash or an incident, it important to make sure that the crash is properly investigated, reported and documented and that important evidence helpful to you as an injured bicyclist is not lost. Talking to qualified legal counsel early on and preserving evidence that can protect you from victim blaming is critical to your ability to recover damages. Likewise, if you witness a crash involving a bicycle rider, make sure to provide your information to the bicycle rider, the police and/or people at the scene collecting information for the benefit of the bicycle rider. Follow up and ensure that your information is placed into the police report and/or is conveyed the bicyclist. This is particularly important when a bicyclist suffers a head or other injury that renders the bicyclist incapable of telling his, her or their side of the story.
Criminal / Civil Overlap
Some civil bicycle cases involve complicated criminal overlap, and a related case may be brought by the District Attorney’s Office. Below is a list of potential criminal statutes that could come into play in a bicycle crash case. If you or a family member is involved in a bicycle crash case, it is important to understand how these laws and a parallel criminal case may relate to insurance coverage that may be available to you or your family.
- Leaving the Scene of an Accident. 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2252.
- Failure to Yield; Criminal Offense. 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2057 (10).
- Driving to endanger. 29-A M.R.S.A. §2413.
- Reckless conduct. 17-A M.R.S.A. § 211.
- Terrorizing. 17-A M.R.S.A. § 210.
- Criminal threatening. 17-A M.R.S.A. § 209.
- Assault / Aggravated Assault. 17-A M.R.S.A. § 207 & 17-A M.R.S.A. § 208.
- Manslaughter / Murder. 17-A M.R.S.A. § 201, 17-A M.R.S.A. § 202 & 17-A M.R.S.A. § 203.
Legal Notice / Getting More Information
The legal summaries above were prepared by Lauri Boxer-Macomber at Kelly, Remmel and Zimmerman, a member of the Bike Law Network, and should not be used, copied or reproduced in any form without her authorization. The summaries should also not be construed as legal advice. Each situation and bicycle rider is unique. Likewise, the analysis of a bike case is often very fact-dependent and likely will involves statutes, regulations, standards of care, evidentiary rules, and case law not cited above. If you have any questions about the bicycle laws discussed above or how they may apply to you or a particular legal case, please feel free to contact Lauri Boxer-Macomber via email ([email protected]) or phone (1-207-615-1926). Lauri is happy to sit down with you for an initial bicycle law consult free of charge.