MassDOT Registry of Motor Vehicles Adds New Bicycle Safety Advice to Massachusetts Driver’s Manual

“As we continue to promote all modes of transportation in today’s world, the RMV is working hard to ensure that drivers and bicyclists can each get where they need to be safely,” Registrar Erin Deveney said. “By adding new bicycle safety language to the Driver’s Manual, we aim to further clarify the responsibilities that bicyclists and motorists inherit when they travel on Massachusetts roads, making everyone more aware of how their actions impact travelers in their vicinity.”

The new content in the Driver’s Manual concerning the “Dutch Reach” method for drivers disembarking from vehicles explains the standard practice for opening a vehicle door in the Netherlands, a place widely considered to be a model for bicycle transportation.

By reaching to open the door of a parallel-parked car, a driver is asked to open the door with his or her hand which is furthest from the door. With this technique of reaching for the handle, the driver’s body is forced to begin turning to the left, making it easier for the driver to see bicyclists who may be in the blind spot of a motorist’s mirror.

From the text of the updated Driver’s Manual:

“Open vehicle doors pose a very serious threat to bicyclists. When opening a vehicle door, drivers and passengers are suggested to do the following:

1. Check your rear-view mirror.
2. Check your side-view mirror.
3. Open the door with your far hand, (the hand farther from the door).”

While the Dutch Reach method is a more effective way of checking for oncoming bicycle traffic, the updated Driver’s Manual still recommends that bicyclists should ride at least three feet out from parked cars to avoid doors if they can do so safely, both on streets with and without bike lanes.

According to the City of Boston’s 2012 Boston Cyclist Safety Report, the Boston Police Department responded to 202 bicycle collisions between 2009 and 2012 involving open car doors, informally referred to as “doorings,” and 123 (approximately 60 percent) of these required response from Boston Emergency Medical Services. These types of collisions are also frequently known to damage the doors of the automobiles involved.

Also outlined in the updated Driver’s Manual are clear instructions for driving on roads with separated bicycle lanes, which demarcate which part of the road is for bicyclists and which part is for motorized traffic.

A key part of MassDOT’s initiative to build and advocate for more “Complete Streets,” which take into account the needs of motorists, transit users, bicyclists, pedestrians and people with disabilities, separated bicycle lanes have become more common in municipalities like Boston, Cambridge, Somerville and can be found elsewhere in the state.

The new language pertaining to separated bicycle lanes stipulates that they are not intended for pedestrians, that “[at] intersections, drivers must stop at the line to allow pedestrians and bicyclists to cross safely. When turning right, drivers must yield to pedestrians and bicyclists who are crossing.”

The added text also mandates that bicyclists ride in the proper direction of travel in separated bicycle lanes and must yield to pedestrians.

The updated Driver’s Manual also outlines proper procedures for bicyclists and motorists travelling through intersections that contain bicycle boxes. Similar in concept to separated bicycle lanes, bicycle boxes are installed at intersections to allow bicyclists a safe way to turn when approaching a red light.

Occupying the space in front of crosswalks, bicycle boxes are painted bright green and contain a large rendering of a bicyclist, which promotes visibility for motorists and bicyclists, even from a distance.

From the text of the updated Driver’s Manual:

“Bicyclists who are turning left should stop in the bicycle box, move to the left side of the box, signal the turn, and wait for the green light. Bicyclists traveling straight or turning right should stay to the right in the bicycle box, in a staggered formation, and wait for the green light.

Bicycle boxes can also be used by bicyclists to make a two-stage left turn. A two-stage left turn allows bicyclists to make a left turn in two separate steps, rather than crossing multiple lanes of traffic:

Step 1: Cross straight through the intersection on the green light and stop in the bicycle box for the road you are turning onto.

Step 2: Wait for the green light and go straight through the intersection.”

Drivers who encounter a bicycle box may not enter the bicycle box when the light is red, even when no cyclists occupy the box, and must yield to any bicyclists using the bicycle box before proceeding at a green light.

In Massachusetts, bicycle boxes are becoming more common, with some currently delineated at major intersections, such as Somerville Avenue and Medford Street in Somerville, Maffa Way and Cambridge Street in Charlestown, Binney Street and First Street in Cambridge and at Beacon Street and Webster Street in Brookline.