Federal judge rules against lane control in Massachusetts

Several people are pointing to this editorial applauding a Federal judge ruling that affirms the common societal belief that cyclists should stay out of the way of faster motor vehicles at all costs.

[U.S. Magistrate Judge Kenneth] Neiman’s description of what’s actually legal seems closer to what Hadley police were arguing. As the magistrate put it: “The court … has little trouble concluding that Massachusetts law requires a slower-traveling bicyclist to pull to the right to allow a faster-traveling motorist to pass when it is safe to do so under the circumstances.”

[Cyclist Eli] Damon and his attorney had argued he had a right to ride in the center of a lane. Hadley police say that in a section of Route 9 with two travel lanes in each direction, Damon rode in the middle of the lane closest to the side of the road; as traffic backed up behind him, he waved for drivers to pass him in the travel lane available to the left.

Damon routinely rides along Route 9 through the town of Hadley, MA, and he rides towards the middle of the lane for his personal safety. Because Route 9 is a four lane divided road, he argues that Massachusetts law that requires him to pull over for faster traffic does not apply.

Hadley police ticketed him several times for controlling the lane. It became a Federal case after the local police confiscated his bike. They also charged him with violating state wiretapping laws because — get this — Damon wore a helmet camera. (Aside: Do police in Hadley routinely confiscate cars, farm implements, wagons, or trucks for minor traffic infractions?)

Attorney Andrew Fischer filed suit for an injunction against the town of Hadley and some members of the police department on Damon’s behalf. The editorial in the Daily Hampshire Gazette refers to a pre-trial motion, in which the judge will not allow evidence that Route 9 is “too narrow to share” in the larger civil case against the town of Hadley.

You can read the 54 page decision on the pre-trial motion here.

Gazette editorial applauding Judge Neiman’s ruling is here.

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