Massachusetts Driving Laws

So, I should warn you ahead of time. This is a rant.

Yesterday, it was sunny afternoon, so I decided to go out to the store and pick up a few items. The evening before, I had parked my car on the street (for which I have a valid, official Cambridge City permit to do so) but I now decided to park it back at my apartment for a few minutes in order to empty the trunk of some trash, and so forth. The car was parked opposite my apartment building, on the opposite side of the road, about 10 yards from the parking lot. I started the engine, signalled and turned out, crossed the central yellow line as if almost making a U-turn and then turned into my apartment parking lot.

That would be the precise moment when an apparently off-duty Cambridge cop was out walking with his kid and witnessed my (apparently) “heinous” activity of turning my car into the parking lot. I heard a voice say “stop right there”, and a badge flash, and wondered what the heck I could have done wrong. The guy said something like “you know you can’t cross the yellow line”, but only after barking at me for a while. He threatened to call his buddies and have them come give me a ticket if I didn’t go back out and drive down the road and around the block and “do it again”. Since I was in a rush, caught off guard, and couldn’t be entirely sure I wasn’t being singled out for being made an “example” of, I decided the easiest thing was to comply and get away from the guy. That took 10 minutes, because going around the block takes you onto one way streets and several traffic systems that force an (involved) detour.

Now, I could at this point make jokes about doughnuts, or suggest that there are bigger fish to fry than some guy who *might* be violating some parking regulation on a Saturday afternoon. But I also *knew* that I wasn’t violating the law. I know this, because I read the Massachusetts General Laws when I’m bored or just because I’m inclined to do that kind of thing – I especially read certain parts of the traffic code when I went to traffic court earlier this year to successfully contest a citation. I’m talking about Chapter 89 of the Mass. General Laws, which define standard driving practice. They not only specifically do NOT exclude one from making a legal U-turn in the road under certain conditions, but also specifically DO cover the case of allowing one to cross a central dividing line in order to turn into a “private way”. Those regulations allow cities such as the City of Cambridge to enact certain rules, such as those codified into the City of Cambridge Traffic and Parking Regulations.

Article IV of those regulations, entitled “Turning Movements”, clearly states that:

“The driver of any vehicle shall not turn such vehicle so as to proceed in the opposite direction upon any street in a business district and shall not upon any other street so turn a vehicle unless such movement can be made in safety and without interfering with other traffic”.

Well, according the latest official City of Cambridge Zoning Map, I live in a C-1 district, which means “Residence C-1″ – that is to say I do not live nor had parked my car in a business district and thus was not subject to the limitation on turning my car at the time. The road was also clear of traffic at the time, and was not on a hill or otherwise subject to obstructions prohibiting an entirely legal “U-turn” (even though that’s not exactly what I was doing – I merely made most of a U-turn as I pulled into the private way where I live). I was therefore not in violation of either Chapter 89 of the Massachusetts General Laws, or of the City of Cambridge Traffic and Parking Regulations at the time. Whatever law this guy thought he might have known, I have no idea. And, having checked it, I’m certain he was incorrect.

What I did yesterday in moving my car 10 yards on a public right of way was completely legal under the laws of Massachusetts, and also under the laws of anyone’s common sense, as I have now proven to myself by checking the regulations. I wanted to do this first, just in case this guy decides to harass me in future – in which case I will file a complaint with the Cambridge Police Review and Advisory Board. I suggest they consider advising their officers to go out and enforce the law, not annoy the local residents going about their lawful business on a Saturday afternoon.


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