Authorities exercised good judgment in not charging driver who hit cyclist

March 18, 2011

Del. Jon Cardin writes that the law was apparently violated when a motorist turning right failed to yield the right of way to a bicyclist ("No accountability for driver who hit bicyclist," March 16).

He seems to imply that police or prosecutors acted irresponsibly in failing to bring criminal charges against the driver. Yet we normally expect those who administer the law to use judgment in its application, and since police, unlike Delegate Cardin, had a chance to interview the driver, it is reasonable to suppose that they did so.

The existence of bike lanes to the right of right-turn lanes for cars is intrinsically hazardous. A driver may check mirrors in good faith, see nothing close, then quite properly look at the road again to start a turn, and a cyclist coming up very rapidly will be there sooner than expected, with horrible consequences.

There has then been a dreadful mistake, but not necessarily a crime.

There is a difference between fallibility and culpability. If law officers did not recognize that distinction, in many areas, our courts would be clogged with people being tried for human error, to nobody's benefit.

It is good that Delegate Cardin has reminded us of the content of the law and the need for care. Bicyclists need all the help they can get, but they too need to practice defensive driving and remain aware that intersections where right turns are possible call for extra caution.

Ultimately it is not about having the right of way but about staying alive.

Katharine W. Rylaarsdam, Baltimore

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