Thursday, October 1, 2009

Police Bias Against Cyclists? Oh, Let Me Count the Ways...

When looking at the traffic laws in Columbus (or almost any city, for that matter), it may seem that bicyclists have no reason to fear: the laws are already in place to keep them safe from harm.

But as Bob Mionske, the famous bike lawyer who wrote Bicycling and the Law: Your Rights as a Cyclist, and currently writes a regular law column for Bicycling Magazine, there's a distinct bias for cars evidenced by police all over our country. And that bias can take many forms.

One such form is the one-sided investigation. When a cyclist is hit by a car, the cyclist is frequently not in good enough shape to give a fair account of what happened in the incident. Even if the cyclist is not sent to the hospital due to the accident, he frequently is disoriented enough that he cannot answer questions about the accident, leading the officer to only have one side of the story. And if a cyclist is sent to the hospital, frequently the first thing they know when they wake up is that they have received a traffic ticket without any chance to give their impressions of the incident.

Another form of bias frequently evidenced is the refusal of police to enforce the law. A good example of this is police refusing to enforce a three-foot passing law in Tennessee after a motorist intentionally brushed a cyclist off the road, because the cyclists present at the accident had a discrepancy about the distance they were from the accident.

And a third form is the opposite of the above - enforcing laws that don't exist. This was seen in Chesapeake, Ohio when an officer tried to force cyclists off the road because they couldn't ride at the speed limit, despite the law in Ohio that states that bicyclists only have to ride at a proper speed for a bicycle. No such speed limit law exists in Ohio.

It all goes back to education and leadership. And as more cyclists take to the streets to avoid paying for gas, get exercise, and avoid the hassles of car operation, it falls to our public officials to ensure that our police understand and enforce the law properly, instead of becoming hindrances to progress.

People, not speed.

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