Thursday, April 23, 2009

Bob Mionske: The Right To Disobey Cops

Blogger's Note: PLEASE read the comments! Steve Magas has graciously offered some closure to the Tony and Ryan case and also expounded upon some of the topics in this article!

Bicycling Magazine has a new article by cycling lawyer Bob Mionske with a topic that I wonder about a lot. That topic is the right to disobey police officers who attempt to stop you for accusations of violations that are either mistaken or non-existent. The story of two roadies on a training ride that Mionske relates for us is particularly relevant on this blog as the incident takes place in Ohio, therefore Ohio law is what is being discussed in the article.

I'm sure many of us have been in situations where the police either don't know or misinterpret the laws as they pertain to cyclists and our rights on the road. Let's face it - they haven't HAD to know the law too often because the numbers of cyclists simply haven't been too large. But now, as we hit worldwide peak oil and increasingly more people take to the road on two non-powered wheels, the police all over the country are being called upon to deal with more cycling-related situations. And let's face it - many of them aren't ready for it.

So if a police officer tells us to get off the road, or stop riding two abreast, or that we're riding too far out into a lane, what are we to do? There's a school of thought that says we have to follow any order a police officer gives us. You can bet that the police are going to think that. But if it's an unlawful order, I think it behooves us to stand our ground. After all, it only takes one well-publicized incident to force the police to actually learn the laws they're supposed to be enforcing.

Technically, according to Mionske in the article, if an order from an officer is based on unlawful reasons, then we are not required to follow it. But get ready to face the consequences - Police don't take well to being told that they are wrong (like anyone, of course, but in their case their jobs rely on knowing the law).

Also, Mionske references the case of Trotwood vs. Selz, in which the courts decided that a cyclist cannot be accused of impeding traffic due to speed because a cyclist IS traffic, as Ohio law clearly states that bicycles are vehicles. The case was defended by Steven Magas, the Cincinnati-area "bike lawyer" who has been kind enough to look over my legal-related posts in the past and comment on them!

Though the Trotwood case didn't bring it up, the right to riding in the middle of a lane (AKA taking the lane) is specified in the Ohio Department of Public Safety Digest of Ohio Motor Vehicle Laws (PDF) as follows:
Bicyclists must keep to the right edge of the roadway, allowing faster traffic to safely pass. Cyclists can travel in the middle of the lane if they are proceeding at the same speed as the rest of the traffic or the lane is too narrow to share safely with a motor vehicle.

I encourage everyone to read the article by Mr. Mionske and also to read page 67 of the Digest of Ohio Motor Vehicle Laws for all the information on this case. It would probably behoove each of us to CARRY that digest with us as we ride! I carry a copy of Columbus's traffic code as it pertains to bicycles when I ride, and it's come in handy.

People, not speed.

3 comments:

  1. Bob's article captures the essence of this horrific encounter. The two riders were doing nothing wrong - nothing illegal. The deputy thought they were "impeding traffic" but he was apparently unfamiliar with Ohio law [State v. Selz] and the subsequent amendment in 2006 to Ohio's "impeding traffic" statute that we [the Ohio Bicycle Federation] drafted and submitted to the legislature. The law requires that the type of vehicle has to be considered when assessing an "impeding traffic" situation.

    State v. Selz held that a cyclist cannot be ticketed for "impeding traffic" if he/she is going a reasonable FOR A CYCLIST.

    Fortunately for Tony the judge who evaluated his Motion to Dismiss was a cyclist who was very familiar with both the law as it applies to cyclists and the common practices of cyclists. He did dismiss the case based on his analysis that the order to "stop" was unlawful. However, he wrote in two separate places in his decision that cyclists NEED to get along with motorists and SHOULD break down from two abreast to single file if there are cars lining up behind. WHile this is not required by law, sometimes good road manners should take precedence over forcefully asserting our rights...

    The issue of what to do when a police officer asks you to do something is a lot tougher though. Bob correctly points out that if the officer is giving you an UNlawful order, you, in theory, don't have to follow it. However, in PRACTICE, it is always a good idea to listen to and obey police orders and, if you don't, be prepared to pay the price! Tony and his riding buddy were taking a huge risk by exercising their right to ride on the roadway. Had Tony's helmet been looser he would be nursing a fractured skull right now. Had the judge in Tony's case NOT been a cyclist himself, a different result could have come down and Tony would have been facing several felony counts.

    This case is NOT a call to all cyclists to disobey the police. Rather, it should be an eye-opener for cyclists to continue to encourage a friendly dialog with EVERYONE while promoting our RIGHT to RIDE on the roadways in the state of Ohio.

    Good cases always feature tough, unselfish players. Steve Selz was just such a character. Tony Patrick fits the same mold. THey were willing to take a risk - the risk of being stopped by police, arrested and charged with a crime - because they felt they were right. They pushed the envelope and because of that the envelope is bigger than we thought!

    Good Luck and Good Riding!!! Let's be careful out there!

    Steve Magas
    The Bike Lawyer
    Bikelawyer@aol.com

    See Steve's BIKE LAW page and blog at
    http://www.phillipslawfirm.com/AboutOurPractice/bicyclelaw.aspx

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  2. Thanks for commenting, Steve! As always, your input on such matters is VERY welcome!

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  3. A good post, Jamie. Thanks. We've all met cops who enforce their prejudices. Here in Oklahoma, the 'impeding traffic' law says specifically that when a motor vehicle is traveling at less than yadda, yadda, yadda. The key is MOTOR VEHICLE! A bicycle is a device propelled by human power, or more colorfully, a muscle powered motorcycle.

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