The positive aspects of Maine’s new bicycle law, which promote safer cycling, are overshadowed by serious flaws in its construction.

The new safety laws are at the expense of motorists’ rights.  This new bicycle law requires motorists to prove their innocence in any collision with a cyclist that results in physical injury, regardless of the incident’s cause.  This requirement goes against the long upheld judicial norm of being considered innocent until proven guilty, a fundamental right upheld in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In recent years, Portland has become a Mecca for cycling, with numerous city groups conducting organized rides as well as an increase in individual riders.  Many streets around the city have designated bike lanes, many of which the USM community uses to commute to campus.

The law passed in June without the governor’s signature, under the name of “An Act to Update and Clarify the Laws Governing the Operation of Bicycles on Public Roadways.” The bill’s aim is to provide safer conditions for cycling within the Maine revised statutes, Title 29-A by clarifying the previous laws.  The most notable tipping of the scales of equality came at the end of the bill in Section 5.  Previous law set the “three-foot rule” that required a motorist leave a distance of at least three feet between their vehicle and a bicyclist while passing them. The new law clarifies those conditions;  it includes that if a collision between a motor vehicle and a bicycle occurs, resulting in bodily injury to the bicyclist, the motorist is automatically presumed guilty of violating the three-foot rule.  This inclusion in the law is a grave injustice to Maine motorists.

In attempting to increase motorist accountability concerning cyclist safety, this portion of the law creates unjust circumstances in which motworists must prove their innocence.  While the city is making it easier to be a cyclist, the reality is, that Maine is a rural place and vehicles must be driven to get from A to B.  Motorists need protection under the law , too.  The motorist is now charged with having to prove their innocence in a situation, rather than the judicial norm of being recognized innocent until proven guilty.  We need rules that provide bicycle safety without degrading the basic rights of motorists.

The requirement that a bicyclist must operate as far to the right portion of the road as possible except when it’s unsafe to do so, is one of the only changes in the updated law that places the responsibility on the cyclist, rather than the motorist.  All other safety changes in the law place too much responsibility on the motorist.  Proposed alternative methods for increasing bicycle safety on public roadways include requiring registration plates, inspection stickers and mandatory courses for young cyclists.  Registration plates would help to identify cyclists and instill them with a greater sense of accountability for their actions. State inspections would ensure not only the safe operation of bicycles, they would promote safe operating conditions for everyone on the roadway.  A mandatory cycling safety course could provide the education necessary for young cyclists to use public roadways prudently.

This gives cyclists an unfair additional right to legal protection. There are adequate alternative methods for ensuring safe cycling besides the methods of the new law––methods that do not jeopardize the rights of the motorists.  A balance must be struck in the spirit of sharing the road, but this time, we need to look out for the interest of motorists.

Bryan Bonin is a senior political science major with a concentration  in law.



  1. When I ride my bike, I always yield to cars. Roads were built for motor vehicle traffic. I also ride a mountain bike, so I can get to the far right, and ride on the shoulder to allow motorists to pass safely and not have to swerve to avoid ruts in the road. I believe we should share the road, unfortunately there are many bicyclists who feel entitled as they speed along on their fancy racing bikes. Especially annoying are the ones with the pack mentality who ride side by side ignoring motor vehicles behind them.

    • If people rode bikes like you I would like them. You’re not kidding about entitled with others who ride their bikes. The bikes, ride in the middle of the lane and can’t even keep speed, and slow everyone down. I find it frustrating as a driver. Most people on bikes don’t seem to yield to cars at all. I liked your post sheshell 🙂

      • There is something in the law about slower vehicles keeping to the right. A bike is a slower vehicle. Those arrogant yuppies that the first person spoke of will never change and as long as they can blame someone else they will continue to ride and be inconsiderate as they have always been. Back in the day bike riders respected motor vehicle traffic and yielded to them but not today.

          • So, why can’t that law change to include cyclists. Why do cyclists get to just leisurely travel at whatever speed they want to impeding the forward progress of other vehicles. When you decide to take your bike to work you plan on the time allowed to get there. When I take my car to work I do the same. I allow for small delays but so much that I’m late for work because I’ve had to follow a bicyclist all the way down the road because they have the “right” to not allow me to pass.

          • The “right” of the cyclist is the same as anyone else — to travel upon the road at a speed that is reasonable for his vehicle. The responsibility of drivers traveling behind him is to yield the right of way to him.

            The roads are there for use by all types of drivers. Please be considerate and respectful when you encounter cyclists, people in horse-drawn buggies or anyone else who may be traveling slower than you are.

          • That’s what I’m saying. A horse drawn buggy, farm equipment, a car going slower then the rest of the traffic, are all courteous and in my experience every one of them eventually pulled over to let the faster traffic pass. A bicyclist, at least in my neck of the woods, would rather die (literally) than allow traffic to go by them. I will continue to be courteous and try to keep bicyclists as safe as possible. I’m just asking them to be a little more courteous themselves.

          • I get that. When I’m in a car and for some reason must go slower then the normal flow of traffic. I take the first opportunity to pull over so others can get by me. It’s called common courtesy. I’m assuming you are a bicyclist. Tell me something, if there are three or four cars behind you and you are on a back road do you pull over as far as possible? Do you help make it easier for those cars to go by you or do you hold your own and make sure they can’t pass you safely? All I’m asking is bicyclists have the same courtesy.

          • If there are three or four cars behind me then it must be due to oncoming traffic or a blind hill or corner. Otherwise, they would have just passed me.

            In that situation it would jeopardize my safety for those drivers to squeeze by in a lane that is not wide enough to allow safe passing. Therefore, I would control the lane until the oncoming lane is open and the other drivers could pass.

            In the very unlikely chance that there is no safe place to pass for a long period of time I would find a safe place to pull off the road and stop to allow other traffic to pass. This is not required, but it is courteous.

          • And that’s all I’m asking. I leave in a very rural area with many narrow, hilly, curvy roads. I just want to pass safely too.

          • No problem. Some people tend to overestimate the amount of delay that cyclists cause.

            In 10,000+ miles of cycling I have never had to pull over to allow faster traffic to pass and I have never delayed anyone behind me for more than 20 or 30 seconds at the most.

            When you consider the fact that some traffic lights cause drivers to completely stop for 90 seconds or more, slowing down for a few seconds is nothing.

          • What if there is so much traffic traveling in the other direction that the car behind you feels it is not safe to pass? Also does “controlling the lane” mean that you ride in the center because you assume the car behind you can’t legally pass?

          • If the oncoming lane is occupied then any drivers behind the cyclist are required to wait until traffic clears and it is safe to pass.

            Yes, controlling the lane means riding near the center of it. This is legal in nearly all situations since only a handful of our roads have lanes that are wide enough to share.

            It is also necessary to discourage other drivers from squeezing between cyclists and oncoming traffic, which can be fatal.

            This excellent animation shows the dangers of riding too far to the right and not controlling the lane:

      • You don’t have to like cyclists. When I’m on the bike, I don’t like 80% of the drivers of motor vehicles around me. Talk about entitled! They think they’re bigger and badder, and so what if they clip a bike. It’s not going to injure them.

        • And what if they just can’t see you? What if they are going the speed limit and round a corner that you happen to be on the other side of? You may be right but you’re dead right.

          • The posted speed limit is only a maximum limit.

            Nobody is allowed to travel at such a speed that they cannot stop within their line of sight.

            It’s surprising and frightening how many drivers do not understand this.

      • And you are entitled to be wary of the motorist and make sure they see you when you make dangerous moves such as flying through an intersection when the car’s very obviously making a right hand turn.

        • Read the new law, it clarifies the motor vehicle has to take the cyclist into account before taking that right turn. Cutting the cyclist off is worse than cutting off a car, because the cyclist can get mangled or killed.

          I don’t expect anything from motorists. That way I’m not disappointed.

          The thing is, it doesn’t matter if 99% of motor vehicle drivers give more than 3ft, slow down until it’s safe to pass, look before turning right, or anything else that keeps cyclists safe. And, trust me. The ratio is no where near that high.

          One car out of a hundred is more than enough to at the very least, terrify a cyclist, or clip them, hit them, injure or kill them.

          • All I’m saying is, I’m doing my best to keep the bicyclist safe and I’d appreciate it if they would do the same. I also stop for pedestrians but if I don’t know they are crossing, how am I suppose to stop for them? Here in Brunswick, there are many crosswalks going across our very wide Maine St. Cars park diagonally along the street in front of the crosswalks. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to brake quickly (once even getting rear ended) because a pedestrian has all of a sudden taken it into their head to walk out into the road on the crosswalk. Bicyclists do the same thing. They shoot out in front, don’t stop at stop lights or stop signs, don’t yield, etc. I do what I can but I’m not a mind reader.

          • If you’re properly using a turn signal I doubted someone’s going to try and pass you on the right. However, enough drivers either have poor judgement how fast that bike they just passed is going or feel they own the road and can just cutt-off cyclist.

          • I grew up in the Brunswick area and I understand that Main Street is unlike almost any other. It’s a nightmare for everyone involved, regardless of mode of transportation.

    • Drivers nor bikers should always yielding to one or another, this only leads to confusion, and potentially dangerous situations.

      In Maine the right-of-ways where most vehicles travel were originally foot and rider paths, and then next used by wagons and bikes.

      Its nice that you ride a mtn bike, not everyone does. Not everyone drives a 4wd with lift kits so they can ignore those annoying potholes, should they?

      Because there are so many ignorant drivers it’s much safer to ride in groups. It nice to talk with other folks rather than racing around in car. Not to mention there is nothing wrong or illegal about riding along side someone.

  2. A bike can stop almost instantly, can turn instantly, can see 360 degrees just by looking around and can hear sounds around them easily. Yet we place the burden of yielding on vehicles that are restricted in their ability to maneuver and don’t have even half of the maneuvering potential of bikes. Not to mention cars are much more likely to suffer mechanical failure.
    It’s ridiculous, either party is capable of causing an accident. I pay thousands of dollars in excise and fuel taxes, plus I have obtained a drivers license after reviving driver training. Cyclists do not pay anything to operate their bike and arent required to be licensed.

    It’s like telling a ferry boat it must yield to all the row boats in the harbor and giving the rowers a blanket immunity to stupidity.

    • Greater responsibility has always been required as the danger posed by one’s vehicle increases.

      Truck drivers are held to higher standards than regular motorists, motorists are held to higher standards than bicyclists, and bicyclists are held to higher standards than pedestrians. It’s a matter of physics.

    • I think we should do away with Excise tax entirely. Maine is one of the very few states that has such a frivolus charge. The fact that newer cars are charged more than an older car is completly off base as well. Since its a charge ment to reflect wear and tear on the road, it should be based on vehicle weight, not the cost of the car

      • Agreed. Get rid of excise tax and fuel tax and replace it with a formula incorporating the gross vehicle weight rating and number of miles traveled annually.

          • I just sat here and figured out how much I would pay in excise tax on my bicycle using the approximate formula that I paid on my car. For this year with my four year old bike I would pay between $0.69 and $0.99.

          • This is exactly why bicycle registration is a bad idea — it would be a net cost to taxpayers since the administrative costs would outweigh the amount of revenue it would generate.

          • What about the required insurance and license that you should need to have the same rights and responsibilities as a motorist?

          • Liability insurance and licenses are typically required when people engage in practices that can cause significant damage to people or property.

            Medical doctors, drivers of cars, and certain heavy equipment operators are required to be licensed and insured for these reasons.

            The danger that someone on a 25-pound vehicle traveling at 15 mph poses to others is negligible, which is why bicycle licenses and insurance are not required.

          • And the revenue generated from the fuel tax is drying up fast as cars get more and more miles per gallon.

            What’s going to happen when half the fleet is electric?

          • I bought a volt this year, and admittedly I probably don’t pay much gas tax as I’ve only bough 10 dollars in gas this month. I did however pay a much higher excise tax than most other cars on the road. How many people drive cars that cost almost nothing to register? A lot. Those cars are also less safe, which means they tax services like police and paramedics more. And let’s not forget until whenever the obamacare website gets up and running many of the people driving them don’t have health insurance and their accident bills are given to the taxpayer.
            Everybody should pay the same road use tax, stop punishing people for buying safer cars and being environmentally friendly.

      • I just registered my new leased car yesterday, they charged me 1070 dollars. And in top of that had one of those tacky 2percent extra for paying with a card charges. It’s ridiculous.

        • By the way, the town charging you for the credit card fee is more equitable than spreading the cost over the rest of us taxpayers.

          • I probably made more than the 20 bucks with Amex point anyway. My car died this year, 12 years old.
            It’s almost not worth it to buy used nowadays as the prices are high and new cars come with a warranty. The new one saves me 300 a month in fuel expenses and maintenance costs and with a 400 a month payment I got a pretty good deal.

    • “Cyclists do not pay anything to operate their bike and arent required to be licensed.”

      I support better education for cyclists, but you are off base regarding cost.

      1. Nearly all cyclists are also motorists and already pay the same taxes and fees that you do.
      2. Most road funding comes from other sources of revenue that all citizens contribute to, regardless of their vehicle choice.

      3. Bikes don’t wear out the road anyway, so the point is moot.

      • Most but not all. I think if you want to ride on the road a test is in order. When the state extorts money from me with excise taxes their excuse for the bs. Tax is that it pays for te maintenance on our crumbling and roads. If this isn’t true then the tax needs to be removed and this time we need to stop the greedy town officials from threatening the elderly with higher property taxes if we take their beloved excise tax away.

  3. One would think that a student with a concentration in law would have a better grasp of it.

    “…it includes that if a collision between a motor vehicle and a bicycle occurs, resulting in bodily injury to the bicyclist, the motorist is automatically presumed guilty of violating the three-foot rule.”

    The law says nothing about bodily injury. Also, the law does not say that the motorist is “automatically presumed guilty” — nobody is ever automatically presumed guilty. The statute reads that the collision of a motor vehicle with a bicyclist “is prima facie evidence of a violation of this subsection”.

    “The requirement that a bicyclist must operate as far to the right portion of the road as possible except when it’s unsafe to do so, is one of the only changes in the updated law that places the responsibility on the cyclist, rather than the motorist.”

    Bicyclists have never been required to operate as far to the right as “possible”. The word in the statute is “practicable”, which has a completely different meaning.

    Links —
    original statutes:

    new changes that took effect earlier this month:

  4. Growing up in the 1960’s the town had the police issue decals that classified our bicycles as “safe”. It was also good for theft as they had a number that identified the owner.

    Todays kids dont have bicycle class that was required when I was a kid. Also with busing, todays kids have no reason to walk to school and get exercise. We instead encourage them to rely on the system of motor vehicles.

  5. Quote from within the article:”This new bicycle law requires motorists to prove their innocence in any collision with a cyclist that results in physical injury, regardless of the incident’s cause.” So what you’re saying is, regardless of the cause of the incident the motorist is responsible unless said motorist has proof of their innocence by means of a witness or they caught it on video.

    Years ago, if something was obstructing my lane as I was traveling, and another vehicle was approaching from the opposite direction and we were going to meet the obstruction at the same time, I would have to yield in my lane to avoid the obstruction while the other motorist had the right of way. Then I would be able to cross the center line safely and proceed around any obstruction. Somewhere along the years this unwritten rule was disregarded by all people who’s lanes were obstructed and it became common practice to cross the center line and race by to avoid an accident. Clearly not an intelligent move, but crossing the center line these days seems to be the answer everyone chooses, regardless of what happens to the motorist who has the open lane. This rule of yielding should be written into law and enforced before the presumption of innocence is taken away from the motorist.

  6. Listen, if bicycles are to have the same rights as motorists, then they should also have to share the responsibility of a collision. No one just assumes the motorist is wrong in a car/motorcycle crash now do they? Bicyclists (in my humble opinion) are beginning to act like the privileged spoiled child refusing to yield to a motorist when possible and going out of their way to hog the road. If they want the same rights then they need to have the same responsibilities including having to be licensed, take out insurance, and pay excise tax.

    • Please keep in mind that when approaching an intersection, it is sometimes necessary for a cyclist to merge into traffic and establish position in the correct lane, such as to make a left-hand turn. On occasion, and particularly at intersections, you may see a cyclist in the center of the lane. They need to have enough space to merge safely, so they don’t cut off a motorist, which means the car behind them will likely need to slow down sooner than if they came up behind another car. It does not usually mean that they are trying to go out of their way to make your day miserable. I HATE riding anywhere near traffic, but occasionally it is necessary for both safety and because of legal requirements. My primary interest when I am cycling is to not get killed. I am extremely careful, and I follow the law to the letter, yet I still get honked and yelled at when cycling. I will say this: There are jerks in every subset of our population, and that will not ever change. So…some motorists are jerks – but not all of them, and some cyclists are jerks – but not all of them, either. If both cyclists and motorists err on the side of caution, then hopefully everyone will stay safe. My opinion as a motorist (and yes, I have encountered that subset of cyclists who are jerks myself) is that if you take a few moments when near a cyclist and drive defensively, it only takes a brief amount of time to ensure everyone’s safety. No matter how right I am, no matter how late or inconvenienced I am, and no matter how much of a jerk someone else is, I would be absolutely devastated if I were involved in an accident that caused the death of another person. Also, motorists don’t share the same level of consequences (physically) when involved in an accident with a cyclist, which is probably a large part of why the law was changed. Honestly, the cyclist in me hopes but doubts that the change in the law will change the attitude of the subset of motorists who drive in a manner that is less than safe around cyclists. The motorist in me drives with enough caution that I don’t expect these changes to ever matter to me at all.

      • Unfortunately you are right and the jerks on both sides will not change. I’ve had so many close encounters and near misses with bicyclists and it scares me half to death! I’m not out to hurt anyone and I certainly don’t want anyone’s physical pain to be on my conscience, and it would, whether it be their fault or mine.

  7. I so support your message! The other day I was driving across a road in excellent condition with wide, smooth shoulders, when I came upon three bikers and despite a 6 foot wide shoulder to ride safely on, one chose to ride in the travel lane of the highway. Its arrogance like this that makes me have little support for bikes on the highway. Had I hit him, legally I guess I would be at fault, but he’d have been just as dead–

      • What about the poor sight line that prevents the car from passing you safely? Should we follow the bicyclist for miles at 5 to 10 miles per hour?

        • The law requires that you yield to traffic in front of you and pass at a safe distance when it is safe.

          I highly doubt that any road exists upon which a motorist would have no opportunity “for miles” to pass a vehicle traveling at five to ten mph. However, most cyclists in that situation would either pull over to allow several cars to pass or, if riding in a group, shorten the length of the group by riding two- or three-abreast.

          • You would think so wouldn’t you? That’s kind of my point. Bicyclists (at least in our area) are behaving like privileged spoiled children. They refuse to allow the motorists by and drive aggressively. I try to be a courteous motorists and would be more willing to share the road with courteous bicyclists. Problem is they are few and far between.

          • I have a hard time picturing how a 30-inch wide bicyclist can block an entire 25-foot wide roadway in order to “refuse to allow the motorists by”.

          • I repeat, I live in a rural area with many narrow, hilly, curvy roads. It’s not so much the 25′ wide area but the visibility to safely pass when you can’t see what’s coming in the other lane.

          • If you cannot determine whether a pass can be made safely then the cyclist should most certainly refuse to let you pass. His life is at stake.

            Just wait until you can see around the corner, hill, etc. and then pass at a safe distance.

          • I really appreciate you trying to educate these folks. I appreciate your tenacity.

            I’ve given up. The cagers are the enemy as far as I’m concerned. They’ve proven as a group that they have little regard for the life of cyclists and they believe we don’t belong on the road. We’re an inconvenience to them. They, are life-threatening foes to cyclists. So, I just accept it and treat them with the same respect they treat cyclists with. Little.

          • I’ve certainly felt like that sometimes. It’s helpful to try not to think of it as an “us versus them” issue.

            I’m a cyclist and a motorist. You probably are too. What matters is that we are all human beings and need to treat each other with respect.

  8. Agree that this law as stated is totally unfair to the drivers. Too many cyclists weave in and out of traffic, causing the problems in the first place, plus, there is not always room for them to be 3 feet away from the vehicle. But, this law pertains to other modes of non-motor vehicle transportation, also, does it not?
    How about a license to ride on the roads? How about inspection stickers?

  9. Have you ever come up on to farm equipment that was going slow down the road? If so I expect you safely passed it. Why can’t you when you come on a biker?

    • Have you ever seen a piece of farm equipment pull over when it’s safe to let traffic pass it? I have. Now, when was the last time you saw a bicyclist pull over to let traffic pass safely?

      • Finding a safe place to pull over is a lot easier when you’re driving a large, four-wheeled vehicle.

        Cyclists, having only two wheels, have to balance their vehicle themselves and also deal with glass, rocks, loose dirt and other edge hazards that can cause a crash.

        Staying on the clean, paved surface is much safer.

  10. It must be nice for those who pay nothing to use the road yet get the most privileged status. Time to register any bike on the road. If you want your special bike lanes and exclusion from any blame in an accident then time to pay up.

  11. I was driving an RV in Fl and when I was passing a biker he hit a rock and turned to the left hitting my mirror.He was on a bike lane and there was about 5 ft. of clearance. Until he hit the rock. My fault I think not. Luckily he was fine and honest.

    • That would be your fault here in Maine. Bikers now bare no responsibility at all. It must be nice to obstruct the normal flow of traffic without any consequences.

  12. I get as frustrated as any driver when I encounter groups of cyclists who ride two or three abreast or space out in such a way in a line that it is impossible to pass for miles. I had to follow one group for nearly three miles last year before I had an opportunity to pass but two of them, only to be reduced to 15 mph in a 45 by 2 more. As I made my way down a long hill waiting for an opportunity to pass the remaining bikes, one of the first two bikes passed me on the left and cut back in front of me. It is this type of mentality that angers even the most patient of motorists. It gets worse when the bike tour groups show up in summer and form a mile-long line of obstacles along the side of the road that eliminate any hope of getting by. Perhaps the legislature could address this troublesome issue by limiting the number of bikes that can ride in a single group so as to not create circumstances where it is impossible to safely pass. In some states, the law mandates that motorists pull over and allow a line of vehicles to pass if five or more cars stack up behind a slow-moving car. Perhaps we could consider similar legislation for bikes. Of course this will drive many bicyclists absolutely wild with indignation. But hold on! Isn’t conflict why laws are written in the first place? If responsible bikers pressured their compatriots to exercise a little more common sense, motorists might not be reduced to this level of frustration. Conscientious bikers could help mend the problem before the legislature is forced to do so. That said, I fully support the three foot rule. Motorists have an absolute duty to drive no faster than conditions allow one to safely operate, regardless of the speed limit. Motorists have a duty to anticipate that a bike,a stopped vehicle, a pedestrian, a runner, a pet or a child could be on the roadway over the next hill or around the next corner. The speed limit bestows no right to plow ahead at 45 or 50 mph oblivious to potential obstacles or dangers, with the expectation that everything will clear the roadway ahead for your arrival. Read the two key words slowly: SPEED LIMIT. That is the maximum speed under any condition that the vehicle can operate, not a defacto speed which motorists are expected to drive. Many police officers seem to forget this concept as well when conducting accident investigations. Many children ride bicycles on the road and we can’t expect children to appreciate to the same degree as adults the dangers imposed by fast-moving vehicles. Drivers have an absolute responsibility to protect this precious commodity. The biggest problem as I see it is that many bicyclists take advantage of the three foot rule to give the proverbial middle finger to drivers because they have had many bad experiences with bad drivers. Conversely, even the most conscientious of drivers have had enough bad experiences with indignant bikers that safety sometimes yields to the human emotion of frustration. The reality is, we –drivers and bikers alike– all need to be more responsible in courtesy and operation. Too many motorists these days approach the highway believing they have the right to forge ahead at irresponsible speeds for their convenience in spite of the reduced safety it causes for others using the highway. Throw into that mix a little texting, cell phone use or adjustments to the GPS which diverts attention in operating that one ton missile barreling forward 88 feet per second (60 mph) and you have ingredients ripe for tragedy. The biker could easily be reduced through no fault of his own to one of those wet greasy spots we see on the pavement next to a porcupine or raccoon’s last steps. The bottom line is a motorist will only save 2.5 minutes driving 40 mph rather than 60 mph over a five mile stretch. Is saving two minutes really worth more than saving lives?


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