Respective Duty, Liability, and Defenses of Motorists and Bicyclists Traveling on Maryland Roadways


I. Rules of the Road, Duty & Standard of Care

The Maryland Transportation Article codifies the “Rules of the Road” for all vehicles traveling on Maryland roadways. All drivers of vehicles in Maryland must observe the rules of the road. Md. Transp. Art. §21-102. They may also assume that others will obey the rules of the road and need not anticipate that others will violate the law. Dean v. Redmiles, 208 Md. 137, 374 A.2d 329 (1977). Pursuant to Md. Transp. Art. §21-1202, the operator of a bicycle on a public street possesses all the rights and duties of the driver of a vehicle. These general duties include the duty to operate a bicycle, or any vehicle, with ordinary care under the circumstances. Kaffl v. Moran, 233 Md. 473, 477-478, 197 A.2d 240, 242 (1964). In addition, there are unique rules of the road that apply particularly to the operation of bicycles. Drivers of motor vehicles owe a duty to bicyclists to exercise due care to avoid colliding with any bicycle being ridden by a person. Md. Transp. Art. §21-1209. Bicycle operators must to ride as close to the right side of the road as practicable, except when turning left, traveling on a one way street, or passing a slower moving vehicle. Md. Transp. Art. §21-1205. Operation of a bicycle in violation of a statute does not constitute negligence as a matter of law, unless the violation is the proximate cause of injury. Miles v. State, 174 Md. 292, 198 A. 724 (1938).

Operators of any type of vehicle on Maryland roadways owe a duty to exercise due care under the circumstances. Moran, 233 Md. 473 at 477-478, 197 A.2d 240 at 242 . While ordinary care is generally required, the Court of Appeals has held that “vigilance must vary according to the danger naturally anticipated from the operation of the vehicle.” Heffner v. Admiral Taxi Service, Inc., 196 Md. 465, 471, 77 A.2d 127, 129 (1950). It is universally understood by travelers on the roadway that intersections create an increased potential for collisions. In anticipation of this known danger, a higher degree of caution is appropriate. The Court opined that “a motorist, when approaching a street intersection, must exercise much greater vigilance than when he is driving between intersections.” Id.

The Maryland Transportation Article also includes provisions that pertain to specific traffic maneuvers. Regarding turns, “a person may not, if any other vehicle might be affected by the movement, turn a vehicle until he gives an appropriate signal in the manner required.” Md. Transp. Art. §21-604(c). A signal of an intention to turn must be given continuously during at least the last 100 feet traveled by a vehicle before turning. Md. Transp. Art. §21-604(d). In addition to signaling, “if the driver of a vehicle intends to turn right at any intersection, he shall approach the intersection and make the right turn as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway.” Md. Transp. Art. §21-601(a). The requirement that drivers of motor vehicles drive close to the edge of the roadway when approaching a right turn is intended to provide further indication to following drivers of an impending turn, so that the turning motorist will not be passed by following vehicles on the side toward which an indication of turning has been given. Norris v. Wolfensberger, 248 Md. 635, 237 A.2d 757 (1968).

In addition to the duty to properly signal an intended turn, drivers owe a duty not to make a turn from a direct course until such turn can be made with reasonable safety. Md. Transp. Art. §21-604(b). Before turning, drivers must keep a proper lookout. As noted by the Court of Appeals, “[o]ne who operates a motor vehicle on a public highway must anticipate the presence of others thereon and must exercise constant vigilance to avoid injuring them…” Peoples Drug Stores v. Windham, 178 Md. 172, 185, 12 A.2d 532, 538 (1940). A well established rule is that when a witness says he looked but did not see an object which he must have seen if he did look, such testimony is unworthy of consideration. Cogswell v. Frazier, 183 Md. 654, 660, 39 A.2d 815, 818 (1944).

Vehicles of greater than average size or weight do not enjoy any additional rights when traveling on roadways. York Manor Express Co. v. State for use of Hawk, 195 Md. 525, 74 A.2d 12 (1950). Drivers of trucks, having knowledge of their increased width and length, owe a duty to other drivers on the roadway to take these elements into consideration in the operation of their vehicles. Id. The size and weight of trucks are important factors in determining questions of negligence in collision scenarios. Id.

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