New signs going up on Maryland roadways Jimmy Wilson photo
New signs going up on Maryland roadways
(Jimmy Wilson)

Police in Maryland are watching a video this fall that concludes with this message from the state’s bicycle coordinator: “The state of Maryland is strongly promoting the use of bicycles as a mode of transportation. We want everyone to have a safe riding experience.”

The 33-minute video, narrated by bike coordinator John H. Brandt and created in conjunction with the Maryland State Police, is being shown to state and local law enforcement officers as a primer/refresher on state laws intended to keep drivers and cyclists from colliding on the road. Being presented to officers at meetings, at roll calls and in squad rooms, it outlines the legal responsibilities of people who take to the road on four wheels or two. And it encourages officers to crack down on violators of either persuasion. You’ll find an excerpt from the video here, and if you’ve got time to watch the longer version that the police are seeing, here it is.

With the number of cyclists and cars on the road increasing, cyclist deaths and injuries nationwide have increased each of the past three years. So has the friction.

A controversial sign posted near San Diego. Scripps Media photo
A controversial sign posted near San Diego.
(Scripps Media)

The other point of view was taken in a New York Times column that went viral on social media, with the headline “Is it O.K. to kill cyclists?”

In Maryland, state officials are at work on a public campaign to get both drivers and cyclists to abide by the law. Signs that inform that bikes “may use full lane” have appeared on some highways, and the motor vehicle administration has devoted a page of its Web site to informing road users of the law.

History has shown that the road safety campaigns fail dramatically unless police are motivated to enforce the laws. Seat belt use is a classic example. The “Buckle up for safety” campaign had minimal success in getting Americans to wear the belts, but the “Click it or ticket” effort, backed up by enforcement, has been successful. (More than half of those killed in traffic accidents last year weren’t wearing seat belts.) The Mothers Against Drunk Driving group presented dramatic stories by loved ones of those killed or maimed by drunk drivers, but it wasn’t until MADD was able to get police and the courts to hand out harsh punishment that many drinkers turned to designated drivers or called cabs (31 percent of traffic fatalities last year involved alcohol.)

If drivers and cyclists are to co-exist on Maryland’s roadways, showing the state police video to law enforcement officers is likely to have a greater effect than the now discredited “share the road” campaign that has gone on for years.