Brian McEntire considers himself lucky that only his bicycle was damaged this month when a vehicle struck him.
The Frederick cyclist was participating in a charity bike ride, he said, patrolling the course along Main Street in New Market when a driver behind him began honking and maneuvering aggressively, eventually striking the bicycle’s rear wheel.
A 2010 Maryland law requiring drivers to pass cyclists at a distance of 3 feet didn’t help McEntire much on that day, even though he and other cyclists said they were optimistic when the law passed that it would help traffic share the road.
A check of local police records shows that officers have had few occasions to enforce the rule. The Frederick County Sheriff’s Office wrote one citation for the “3-foot passing law” the year it went into effect. In the city of Frederick, which has several established bike lanes, police have not written any such citations.
“I’m shocked by that,” McEntire said. “If they’re not enforcing it, or if drivers are not aware of it, then it’s not achieving the safety that it really could.”
When McEntire was struck, a witness called police, but the driver was not cited, and no police report was filed, according to the sheriff’s office. Crashes are generally not reported unless they involve public property, an intoxicated driver or result in injury, a fatality or substantial property damage.
McEntire is quick to emphasize that nearly all the drivers he encounters are courteous, but he said that stricter enforcement of traffic laws could dissuade the few who drive aggressively around bicycles.
“By not charging the driver with anything, they are almost inadvertently legitimizing that behavior,” McEntire said. “It could have easily turned much worse.”
Emily Ranson, advocacy coordinator for Bike Maryland, a nonprofit that promotes bike safety, said she is aware of several crashes in which a driver who struck a cyclist was not charged with any violation because there were no injuries.
“When the police don’t issue a citation in that case, that’s very concerning to us,” she said. “That driver didn’t know that Brian would walk away fine.”
Part of the challenge of enforcing the law, which carries a possible penalty of $80 and one license point, is that officers need to observe a violation firsthand to act, sheriff’s Sgt. Paul Colantuno said.
He noted that 3 feet is a very narrow space, so it would be difficult for a vehicle to travel that close to a bicycle in the first place.
Colantuno encouraged cyclists and drivers to share the road and watch for each other. Bicyclists should be careful not to impede traffic, to ride as far to the right as possible and not to wear earphones.
There are exceptions in the law, Ranson said, that pose enforcement challenges. Bike Maryland lobbied last session to do away with part of the law that states a driver does not have to observe the 3-foot rule if the road is not wide enough to accommodate the vehicle, passing space and the bicycle.
“The road where Brian was struck is a road where the exception would apply,” she said.
Reported bicycle-involved crashes are fairly rare in Frederick County, but they often lead to injury. Motor Vehicle Administration data show 23 recorded crashes last year, seven more than average for the years 2010 to 2013.
Most of those crashes, 21, resulted in injury. There were no fatalities last year, but there was one in 2013.
Nationwide, the rate of traffic fatalities involving bicycles has increased slightly over the past decade.
Around 1.7 percent of total traffic fatalities involved bicycles in 2004. That portion rose to 2.3 percent in 2013.
The number of bicycle commuters also rose during that time, one possible cause for the increased rate of bicycling-involved fatalities in the U.S.
While the portion of Frederick County workers who commuted by bicycle remained flat at about 0.2 percent, the number of cyclists increased.
The number of commuters who cycled, drove a motorcycle or took a cab rose 12 percent between 2010 and 2013 to 1,220 people.
With the possibility of more cyclists on the road, McEntire said he hoped drivers and cyclists would respect each other and travel cautiously.
“I am very lucky to have avoided injury, and I want to increase awareness so that this kind of incident can become a thing of the past,” he wrote in an email.