No Charges for Driver in Cyclist Death

A city truck driver will not face charges in the death of a cyclist, Courteney Stuart reports in The Hook. A joint city/county/state police investigation found that witnesses were unanimous: victim Matthew King ran into the truck while the truck was making a right-hand turn, despite the driver’s use of the turn signal and low speed. King had been passing vehicles on the right immediately prior to the crash.

Last week a police officer stood in front of my office on McCormick Road—central grounds at UVA—and stopped every cyclist who rode by dangerously. He lectured each one about the importance of following traffic laws, handed each one a brochure explaining what those traffic laws are, and told them that they were going to start issuing tickets to cyclists this week. It appears that efforts to prevent another such death are underway.

32 Responses to “No Charges for Driver in Cyclist Death”


  • Do we know King was necessarily acting dangerously? Cyclists pass on the right in that location and throughout the city all the time, and they are in their legal right to do so (as long as they are not acting recklessly). Cyclists sometimes pass cars, and cars sometimes pass cyclists. That’s how it is. We share the road.

    I didn’t do the investigation, but I can certainly imagine a situation where King may have slipped into a blind spot before the turning signal was activated. I’m not blaming the driver, but let’s not blame the victim without enough evidence.

    I’ve seen the police stopping cyclists on McCormick as well. Dispensing safety advice is fine, but the city should be careful with a crackdown on cyclists. A more hostile environment leads to fewer riders, which leads to less safety, according to a host of studies. I only hope some of this energy is also being applied to making the streets actually safer for all users. We’re not there yet. Nowhere near there.

  • Cyclists do not have the right to pass stopped or slowed cars on the right hand side of the road, just as motorcycles do not. Yes, they do it all the time, but when traffic is stopped, a cyclist can get a citation for moving to the front of traffic instead of staying where he belongs, which is behind the cars stopped in front of him. A cyclist that tries to skirt traffic at intersections is putting his safety in jeopardy; legally, a vehicle in the right hand lane, turning right needs to watch for pedestrians in the crosswalk, but doesn’t need to be looking out for the cyclist speeding around slowed traffic along the curb.

  • tomr, you’re belief is common but incorrect. From VA state code:

    “Bicyclists may overtake and pass another vehicle only when safe to do so. Bicyclists may pass another vehicle on the right or left, and they may stay in the same lane, change lanes, or ride off the road if necessary for safe passing. Please note that passing motor vehicles on the right side may be extremely dangerous if the motorist does not see the bicyclist and attempts a right turn.”

    §§46.2-839,46.2-907

    And yes, right-turning vehicles need to look out for ALL traffic:

    “Such turning traffic shall yield the right-of-way to pedestrians lawfully within an adjacent crosswalk and to other traffic using the intersection.”

    Virginia Code § 46.2-835

    The cyclist “belongs” at the very front of the line of stopped traffic for his or her own safety. A cyclist in front is more visible. This is well known, and many progessive towns encourage this practice through the use of bike boxes. In such cases, the stop line is pushed back a few feet to give cyclists room to get in front.

  • Actually, it is perfectly legal for a cyclist to pass on the right when it is safe to do so.

    ***
    From the code of VA:

    § 46.2-907. Overtaking and passing vehicles.

    A person riding a bicycle…may overtake and pass another vehicle on either the left or right side, staying in the same lane as the overtaken vehicle, or changing to a different lane, or riding off the roadway as necessary to pass with safety.

    A person riding a bicycle…may overtake and pass another vehicle only under conditions that permit the movement to be made with safety.
    ***

    In this specific instance, it was not safe to do so and, therefore, the legality of the move that Mr. King made is debatable.

  • It’s important for bicyclists to learn how to ride safely, including passing/not passing.

    As a driver, I wish that some bicyclists around town would not block traffic when they bike side-by-side and instead go with a front-to-back peleton. It would be great if all bicyclists took safety courses or at least researched bike safety. (I read a book on biking before I took it up.)

    As a bicyclist, I wish that drivers would learn some courtesy. I bike as far to the right as I can on streets without bike lanes (which is most of them), yet I have been nearly run off the road many times, including once when an impatient driver passed me in one of the traffic-calming pinch-points on Park Street when another car was in the other lane at the same time.

  • Jen, I was passed the other day by a pick-up truck at the squeeze right next to the Landmark skeleton downtown. He did not slow down or move over at all, and came dangerously close to hitting me. There was some construction debris in the roadway, and if I had not been aware of him coming from behind I may have tried to steer around it and into him. I had to run over the piece of broken plastic. I got his license number, but I have haven’t reported anything.

    I’m also a motorist, and I always check my mirror before making any turn. Let’s all try to remember safety.

  • I should have clarified the statement; Cyclists may pass, and I don’t dispute that, but in that same code, cyclist are required to follow the flow of traffic. When approaching a vehicle indicating a right hand turn, the cyclist would be breaking the law if he passed at the intersection, unless he passed to the left, which is perfectly legal. § 46.2-905 puts the onus on the cyclist to avoid the right hand side of the road in situations when they are overtaking a slower vehicle and safety dictates a pass to the left.

    The cyclist was not in the intersection, but was approaching behind several vehicles; according to the law, the driver of the truck would only have to look for vehicles and pedestrians in the intersection. I don’t think that anyone can logically argue that drivers should be looking behind them to see who is approaching between themselves and the curb as they are turning right.

  • I don’t think it’s so unreasonable to expect for drivers to know what’s coming up on them before making a right turn. I remember when I took driver’s ed in high school, we were taught to always check the rear view before making a right turn. I often ride a bike to work, but I a drive a car too. Is it so hard for drivers who know they’ll be making a right turn to be aware if they’ve just passed a bicycle and to at least signal early so the cyclist can see them? You’re supposed to be aware of the big picture when you are driving and that means recognizing the presence of cyclists in your immediate area.

  • I also wanted to mention that the bike lanes in this town are frequently littered with debris, such as stones–some fairly large– which are a hazard for cyclists.

  • Curiousobserver, you say that pedestrians have the right of way. This is true, however, a cyclist, when not on the sidewalk, is NOT considered a pedestrian and is required to obey the laws of traffic. Were king on the sidewalk, he would be considered a pedestrian, and would also have to dismount his bicycle and cross at a crosswalk. All of these laws that you guys are quoting say that a cyclist can pass a vehicle on the right when safe to do so, and obviously this was not a safe condition.

    From the article it appears the truck driver was acting safely as a motorist. As an ambulance driver, I know there are severe blind spots. Even in a car, you should be careful when passing trucks because, even though they may be obeying all traffic laws, they can’t necessarily see you.

    I am not saying all cyclists are unsafe and should be punished, but the police are well within their rights to issue citations. I have even seen a cyclist get a DUI. Just bike safer, and you won’t have this problem. Just as you must pay attention to other vehicles while operating a motor vehicle, you should do so on your bicycle as well.

  • Tomr, your statement was simply wrong. You stated:

    “Cyclists do not have the right to pass stopped or slowed cars on the right hand side of the road, just as motorcycles do not.”

    Your “clarification” was not a clarification but a reversal. Really irritating when people like you spout off false statements, then try to backtrack when your error is pointed out. Show some class and admit your mistake. Sheesh!

  • What I’m saying is that we don’t know, or at least I don’t based on this article, whether King made an unsafe and illegal decision in trying to pass at this moment. I have a problem with the assumptions that some observations of a cyclist passing cars on the right is suppose to be clear evidence of culpability. There are other factors to consider.

    Once again, it does seem like the driver was acting responsibly. There is a possibility that this was simply a freak accident, in which case lots of attention should be paid to the external conditions (i.e. lack of bike lanes) and less paid to trying to assign blame to either either party (or worse yet, generalizations about “reckless cyclists”, which is what some of these forums have degraded into.)

  • Personally, when I’m traveling where King was traveling just before his accident, I usually take the lane. There’s no bike lane there and not much room to share the lane with moving & parked cars. Taking the lane helps drivers realize they can’t overtake you without crossing the yellow line. Of course, since it’s a pretty congested block, there’s plenty of time to be aware of and make eye contact with the other riders, vehicles, and pedestrians around you.

  • I think its clear from the numerous quotations of the law that it is legal for bikes to pass on the right when safe. But speaking as a full-time cyclist who doesn’t own a car, I still know better than to attempt to pass a vehicle on the right when approaching an intersection. I can often feel instinctively when a driver is planning on turning right, even if they’re not signalling, but that’s only from years and years of biking in highly trafficked areas. I will almost always choose to slow down a bit while that vehicle crosses the intersection instead of pulling up alongside them.

    Obviously, in situations with bicycles, motorists are often unawares and in the wrong. I’ve been run off the road myself. But this is clearly not the case here, and I don’t think its useful to react to a cyclist’s miscalculation, mistake, or even disregard of the rules of the road to try and let our behavior off the hook. I know when I’ve broken a traffic law; sometimes I do it anyway, but I know when I’m making that choice.

    Ultimately, it isn’t about blame. It is about the unfortunate circumstance that the onus of awareness is on cyclists, and that until C’ville motorists’ awareness comes up, its those of us on bikes who have to pay more attention. Because ultimately, we are more likely to pay a greater price.

  • or worse yet, generalizations about “reckless cyclists”, which is what some of these forums have degraded into

    And I’m glad to see that hasn’t happened here! I’m wary of discussions about cycling safety because, yeah, they almost seem to devolve into that. I’m actually learning a lot about the law and cycling here—a topic that I thought I understood, but clearly I did not.

  • Eric- My clarification was not a reversal. There is a distinction between passing a car moving in traffic and passing a car stopped in traffic. I was pointing out that cyclists are required to stay in the flow of traffic and not pass stopped cars at intersections. Since the accident did happen at an intersection where the traffic had slowed for a turning vehicle, the cyclist had no more of a right to pass on the right hand side than a motorcycle would have. Hope you can understand my intentions a bit better.
    While it might seem as though I’m passing judgement on the rider, that isn’t really my point. I’ve ridden numerous miles on about every back road from Barracks north to Dyke and east to Fluvanna and Scottsville, as well as in town; I’ve also had two friends killed on their bikes- one in Blacksburg and one in Lynchburg. I have been in numerous situations that could have had a tragic ending due to my riding practices or to crazy drivers, and now, with two children and a third on the way, I’ve curtailed the use of my road bike because the road is not a friendly place for cyclists, even when riding safely… but I do miss it.

  • “…until C’ville motorists’ awareness comes up…” I don’t know how that’s going to happen. Even if the city runs every motorist and cyclist living in the city through safety courses there will still be a huge amount people on the roads that will be missed.
    BTW, were the cars in the lane stopped and was the truck one of those were the driver was about 8 to 10 ft up in the air? Tall cabs usually make it difficult for a driver to use his rear and side view mirrors effectively to see a cyclist – they’re in different planes.

  • tomr- I’m sorry, but you are wrong. There is no distinction in the law regarding passing a stopped vehicle or a moving vehicle. It is perfectly legal to ‘filter’ to the front of a line of stopped vehicles. Whether it’s safe to do so depends on conditions on the road. Additionally, while it is legal, it may not be the most courteous thing to do, especially if the vehicles will then just have to pass you again.

  • Noah- according the the VDOT synopsis it might seem that I am wrong, but according to the VA codes, the cyclists responsibilities are much greater than you suggest. When cyclists ignore the section of the code I mentioned above, they will ALWAYS be liable. Safety is hard to legislate, but our state has done this regularly, and had a police officer seen a cyclist go around a vehicle on the side that it is turning towards, as happened in this incident, he’d have reason to ticket the cyclist. To follow the logic, imagine that a cyclist had gone around the left side of a vehicle turning left on a four lane road divided by a yellow line; you’d be hard pressed to suggest he was within the law. The driver of the truck wasn’t charged for a reason.

  • tomr- First off, I was not reading the VDOT synopsis, I was reading the VA Code (I carry a copy of the bicycle related traffic laws with me when as a majority of people – police officers included – don’t really know what the law says).

    Additionally, I never stated that passing a turning vehicle (or a vehicle indicating a turn) was legal (or safe).

    All I was stating is that your initial assertion that:

    “Cyclists do not have the right to pass stopped or slowed cars on the right hand side of the road”

    and your follow-up that:

    “There is a distinction between passing a car moving in traffic and passing a car stopped in traffic. I was pointing out that cyclists are required to stay in the flow of traffic and not pass stopped cars at intersections.”

    are both wrong. Whether it is safe, and therefore definitely within the letter of the law, depends on the specific conditions at the time.

  • I guess we’ll just have to disagree. If you’d pull out your book and check out § 46.2-905, you’d see that there are subtleties in regards to when passing is appropriate and legal and there are times when it is not legal; therefore, cyclist do have the option, but there are times when they do not. Since we are discussing a specific situation, the conditions are not in doubt, and in this situation, had the cyclist been operating within the letter of the law, the truck driver would have been cited.
    There is no real reason to argue the point because the majority of us probably break more traffic laws than cars. I’d say that the weakness of the law is that the safety aspect is left up to the observer’s and the rider’s judgment, but if a police officer sees me zipping past slow moving traffic at a busy intersection, he can ticket me and no matter whether I carry a copy of the law or not, I’ll lose in court.
    By the way- have you ever been pulled over for speeding on your bike?

  • tomr- I am not discussing this situation in specific, I am trying to clarify that the broad statement you initially made – that cyclists are not allowed to pass on the right – is wrong.

    Additionally, the section you sight – § 46.2-905 – has to do with a cyclists responsibility to ride as far as practicable to the right (when travelling at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place under conditions then existing) except in the circumstances listed. It has little to do with the section on passing vehicle on the right.

    If a police officer did see you zipping past slow moving traffic at a busy intersection, what traffic infraction would he ticket you for and, if you are riding within the law, why would you lose in court?

    I ride within the rules of the road as best as I am able. Sure, as with any user of the road, there have been times when I have broken the law. Can you say that you have never broken the speed limit or forgotten to turn on your lights when you flip on your wipers?

    I have never been pulled over – either on my bike or in a car – and I’ve been riding and driving in and around town for going on 20 years.

    That said, of all the possible traffic infractions to get ticketed for while riding my bicycle, I would mind a speeding ticket the least. In fact, I would probably frame it.

  • Any person operating a bicycle…on a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place under conditions then existing shall ride as close as safely practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway, except under any of the following circumstances:

    1. When overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction

    3. When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions including, but not limited to … parked or moving vehicles… that make it unsafe to continue along the right curb or edge

    As I mentioned before, my opinion from everything I’ve read about the story is that in a similar situation, the cyclist is not supposed to be passing on the right. I did clarify my original statement as I hadn’t completed the thought. I’m sure that this section might be up to interpretation, but I read it as there are time when cyclists are not to be passing on the right. Oh well, it is what it is.

    I’ve never been pulled over on the bike, but have had plenty of stops in my younger years when driving a car. I have known a couple of riders who have gotten speeding tickets; it isn’t hard to exceed 25 mph in some downtown areas. I stick with my mountain bike these days and don’t get the opportunities to put myself in speeding dangers as much as I did 6 or 7 years ago.

  • tomr- The only remark that I have made specifically as respects this situation (at the end of my initial post) is:

    “In this specific instance, it was not safe to do so and, therefore, the legality of the move that Mr. King made is debatable.”

    From what I can tell, this is point that you have been trying to get across the whole time.

    All I am saying is that your initial statement (which seems like a pretty complete thought to me):

    “Cyclists do not have the right to pass stopped or slowed cars on the right hand side of the road, just as motorcycles do not. Yes, they do it all the time, but when traffic is stopped, a cyclist can get a citation for moving to the front of traffic instead of staying where he belongs, which is behind the cars stopped in front of him.”

    is wrong. Cyclists are, in fact, allowed to pass on the right when it is safe to do so. End of story.

  • Noah- you may now joust with the windmill.

    Be safe on the bike- it seems that the Cville streets are a dangerous place.

  • I know comparing someone to Hitler is what someone posting in a forum does when he wants to gracefully concede defeat. I don’t have the latest version of “The Guide to Internet Flame Warz” though. Anyone know what the rule is re: Don Quixote comparisons?

  • Waldo Wrote:

    Last week a police officer stood in front of my office on McCormick Road—central grounds at UVA—and stopped every cyclist who rode by dangerously. He lectured each one about the importance of following traffic laws, handed each one a brochure explaining what those traffic laws are, and told them that they were going to start issuing tickets to cyclists this week. It appears that efforts to prevent another such death are underway.

    Alright Waldo- but I want a follow up report when you **Actually See The Police Writing Tickets to Cyclists** Otherwise what they did on the day you are citing – doesn’t mean Poop.

  • I have not seen any police officers handing out tickets to bicyclists since then, nor have I seen a police officer standing in that spot for an extended period of time since then.

  • A friend of mine got a $100 ticket for running a University Ave stoplight on his bike a couple of years ago. He didn’t blow the light while moving; he stopped and waited until nobody was coming, then he ran the light and got busted.

    What I really don’t get is why you can get points on your license for committing a traffic violation on your bike. You don’t need a license to ride a bike! So you wind up getting punished on your car insurance if you have a license, but you have no penalty (other than monetary) if you don’t have a license.

  • What I really don’t get is why you can get points on your license for committing a traffic violation on your bike. You don’t need a license to ride a bike! So you wind up getting punished on your car insurance if you have a license, but you have no penalty (other than monetary) if you don’t have a license.

    Interesting point.

    Not that I want to assist cycling scofflaws but if you’re a UVA student and out of state- It seems to me that it would make sense to go to the VA dmv and get a “Walkers ID” or whatever that is so that if you’re pulled over and ticketed for a cycling traffic violation all you need to do is hand that over- instead of your out of state drivers license.

    Of course it would probably just make more sense not to violate the cycling traffic laws in the first place.

  • Just Bob, that is a very interesting point, and one that I definitely would not agree with! What would happen if the biker wasn’t carrying his license (or had it in a backpack and simply stated that he didn’t have it)?

    I also have seen bikers being ticketed – saw one last week westbound on Main Street @ JPA blowing the light who promptly got pulled over. I don’t agree with CuriousObserver’s point that “targeting” bikers will create a more hostile environment. If bikers aren’t breaking the law, then they won’t be ticketed. There are plenty of bikers in this town who obey the law, but there are also many who choose not to obey traffic laws (or, in my opinion, aren’t even aware that they have to obey traffic laws). A police presence WILL increase bicycle safety. A bigger boost to bike safety, however, can only come about through changes to roadway design standards to accommodate all modes of traffic.

    This is the best thread I’ve read by far on this topic – many of the others (the Hook especially) have sunk to the level of bikers and drivers blaming each other and furthering the strain between the two instead of constructive dialogue between the two.

  • This is the best thread I’ve read by far on this topic – many of the others (the Hook especially) have sunk to the level of bikers and drivers blaming each other and furthering the strain between the two instead of constructive dialogue between the two.

    I don’t say it enough, so I’ll just echo what you said: I am constantly impressed by the caliber of discussion here. I learn a lot from every discussion, even (especially?) the ones that I don’t participate in, but just read. Sans trolls, cvillenews.com is a joy to read, thanks to everybody who participates.

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