February 5, 2018
Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Maryland General Assembly Annapolis, Maryland
Senator Zirkin, Chair
Re: SB 268 - Vehicle Laws - Overtaking and Passing Bicycles, Farm Equipment, Farm Tractors, and Animal-Drawn Vehicles
Dear Chairman Zirkin and Members of the Committee:
The Maryland Horse Council (MHC) is a membership-based, umbrella trade association of the entire horse industry in Maryland. Our membership includes over 40 breed, interest and discipline associations, plus horse farms and stables, horse- related businesses, and horse owners representing all facets of the Maryland equestrian community, from the owners of race horses to the owners of trail horses or just beloved retired companion horses. As such, we represent over 30,000 Marylanders.
MHC has some concerns related to the impact on public safety that may occur if SB 268, which would allow vehicles to pass horse trailers, farm equipment, bicyclists, and other slow moving vehicles, is passed and implemented.
A double yellow line means that the State Highway Administration has determined that the road is one where “overtaking and passing or driving on the left . . . would be especially dangerous.” Maryland Code Ann. § 21-307(a) (No-Passing Zones) (emphasis added).1 In many cases, these roads are narrow, rural, roads with no shoulders and short sight distances. Double yellow lines prevent accidents by minimizing the risk of driving into oncoming traffic.
Maryland law preserves the prohibition on crossing double yellow lines even when traffic is impeded by slow-moving objects such as farm equipment or bicycles. (While the general rule is that motor vehicles must leave a clearance of 3 feet when passing a bicycle, that rule does not apply to narrow roads with double yellow lines because the “highway . . . is not wide enough to lawfully pass the bicycle at a distance of at least 3 feet.”) 2
Maryland horse owners drive horse trailers on the rural roads on a daily basis. Horse trailers traveling within posted speed limits carry more forward momentum than the average motor vehicle because of the dynamic weight of the live horses – the more horses, the more momentum. As such, horse trailers cannot brake or accelerate as quickly as a passenger car. If a horse trailer were confronted with oncoming traffic traveling at common passing speeds, the driver of the trailer would have few options other than holding on and hoping for the best.
The risk in such a collision is not just to the drivers. Horses who are thrown forward in a trailer risk serious injury or death to themselves and the driver, and extracting
1 The only exception is if the driver is crossing the double yellow line to make a left turn, which is permitted “only if it is safe to do so.” 21-307(d).
2 Maryland Code Ann. § 21-1209(2)(ii) & (iii)
horses from a wrecked trailer is a difficult, time-consuming operation involving large amounts of first responder resources. In addition, a frightened horse can get loose and create further havoc on the road.
These substantial risks exist even if the horse trailer itself is not the vehicle confronted with oncoming, passing, traffic. For example, if a trailer is traveling behind a bicyclist and a vehicle further back in line attempts to pass both trailer and bicycle, that vehicle could encounter oncoming traffic and cause an accident involving both the horse trailer and the bicyclist. Such a scenario would risk the lives of the horses, the driver of the trailer, the driver of the passing vehicle, the driver of the oncoming vehicle, and the bicyclist. The more slow moving vehicles or bicyclists the vehicle is trying to pass, the higher the risk.
These concerns are not hypothetical. Two horses were killed in a July 2016 wreck in Maryland after a car cut-off the truck pulling the trailer. Last April, a horse died in Caroline County when a Virginia State Trooper collided with the trailer. And in 2015, a man, his dog, and three horses died in Ohio when a passing car swerved abruptly and slowed suddenly in front of the trailer.
A road that the State Highway Administration has determined is “especially dangerous” for passing remains “especially dangerous” even when the object being passed is a slow moving vehicle. Disregarding that determination should not be undertaken lightly.
Thank you for your consideration of our comments.