Does it matter if you’re right when a wrong-headed legal system says you’re not?

A must-read from bike lawyer Bob Mionske on a failed legal case in Mississippi, in which a judge blames a cyclist for the negligence of the driver that hit her — simply because she was riding on the road.

Except it’s not just a problem down South. It’s one we all risk every time we ride.

You can do everything right on the roads, and still get blamed by a cop who thinks he knows the laws that govern bicycling, even though he’s never been trained in it.

Or failed by prosecutors or judges who misinterpret — or sometimes ignore — legal standards in place to protect all road users.

Even bike riders.

Granted, things have improved greatly in Los Angeles under Chief Beck, particularly through the efforts of bike liaison Sgt. David Krumer. We now have a voice within the department we never had before.

Although it’s still far from perfect, as it’s not hard to find officers who have seen or don’t remember the city’s highly praised bike training module.

But leave the city, and you can find yourself subject to sometimes absurd interpretations of the law.

Take last week, when I was threatened by a road-raging driver while riding on the sharrows on Hermosa Avenue in Hermosa Beach.

The cop I flagged down was more than willing to tell the driver who tried to threaten me that I had every right to ride in the traffic lane. And was happy to explain that those little bike pictures on the street mean that’s where I’m supposed to ride, and he was required to share the lane whether he liked it or not.

So far so good.

But then he followed-up by incorrectly telling me that no violation had occurred — even though it’s against the law to threaten anyone with a motor vehicle, or to pass a rider in an unsafe manner. The truth was was that there was simply nothing he could do since he didn’t actually observe the violation.

Then he went on to add that I could have been arrested for following the driver into a public parking garage to take a photo of his license plate.

If that were the case, every paparazzo in North America would be behind bars.

But maybe the first amendment doesn’t apply in Hermosa Beach.

I’ve also gotten word that the CHP says it’s against the law to ride two or more abreast, even though that’s not mentioned anywhere in the vehicle code.

And I get regular reports from cyclists about officers telling them to get out of the traffic lanes we’re legally entitled to, or to ride in the door zone or amid the broken glass and gravel in the gutters in violation of our rights under CVC.

It’s a very sad comment that cyclists often know the law better than those who are charged with enforcing it. Let alone that we have to.

But that’s the world we live in.

If you’re stopped by a cop who doesn’t know the law, don’t argue with him. You’re far better off accepting a ticket you can fight later than ending up in cuffs. You can take it up with his supervisor when you get home. Or take it up with the judge.

And hope you get a better one than the one in Mississippi.

……..

A letter writer says the Time’s recent endorsement of bikes doesn’t reflect reality. This explains why you may be more likely to be run off the road by a jerk in an expensive car; actually, I tend to have more problems with jerks in trucks and muscle cars. Workshops continue for wayfinding signage on future Bike Friendly Streets. Simple observations says more people are riding more in L.A. Gary says high gas prices could drive a further increase in bicycling. Another look at Silver Lake’s Dr. Suess-designed pedestrian plaza. That bike musical we mentioned the other day may be a good one, but not the first after all. Can fashion lead the way for bike advocacy — and am I wrong to be offended when ghost bikes are used to sell clothes? Limited closure of the San Gabriel trail for repaving has been delayed. The Claremont Cyclist gets mistaken for Lance Armstrong.

Streetsblog says it’s round two for the three-foot passing law, similar to the one vetoed by our sadly misguided governor last year. San Diego’s leading bike website will soon extend coverage throughout the county and to all kinds of bicycling. The importance of bike advocacy. A Coronado man plans to ride across the country to call attention to traumatic brain injuries. CHP in El Centro blame a suicidal cyclist for turning into a truck that desperately tried to avoid him; yeah, right. The Coachella Valley plans to spend $80 million for a 54-mile paved pathway for golf carts, e-vehicles and bikes too. A Ventura County mountain biker thanks the people who helped save his life. Four members of Lance Armstrong’s developmental team were injured in a crash at their Santa Ynez training camp. CHP stats for the County of Santa Cruz show cyclists at fault in more collisions than drivers; of course, they’re the ones assigning blame. And I doubt rumbles strip will help. Caltrain proposes assuming responsibility for a free, volunteer bike valet. A Bay Area columnist goes from hating bikes to thinking they’re the future to hating bikes, or at least the people on them. Sacramento cyclists — and unwilling drivers — enjoy the benefits of back-in angled parking.

How to go hard anywhere. Helmet hair is no longer an excuse for not riding. Bikes aren’t the reason for Portland’s transportation problems. Eight years in prison for a repeat drunk driver convicted in the hit-and-run death of a Colorado cyclist. Press reports blame the victim of a fatal collision for riding in the traffic lane rather than on the shoulder, yet fail to mention that bikes are allowed in the lane in all 50 states, and offers no further explanation for why an Atlantic City cop ran him down. New York makes improvements to Prospect Park that actually benefit riders for a change. The New York Times continues the debate over making cities safer for cyclists and pedestrians, including a remarkable claim in the comments from John Forster, the father of Vehicular Cycling, that no one has ever created a safe bike lanes; thanks to Evan G for the heads-up. Selling vintage bikes in Boston. If you’re going to ride against traffic, don’t collide with a cop.

A Canadian study shows cycle tracks and local streets mean fewer injuries for cyclists. A UK letter writer calls cyclist behavior disgusting. A bronze statue is planned for a singer killed while riding her bike in London. Far too many Irish cyclists have been killed or injured on Dublin Streets. A Dutch study says bike helmets offer virtually no benefit in moving collisions; instead of opposing helmet use, why not call for better helmets? Park your bike in the wrong Copenhagen spot, and you may find it moved — albeit very politely. What cyclist wouldn’t want to ride the Chuck Norris bike and pedestrian bridge? Breathtaking bike sculpture from China’s Ai Weiwei. Australian authorities target cyclists in an attempt to reduce trauma on the roads, rather than focus on the ones actually causing it. Brisbane bike couriers are told to stop making small talk with receptionists. A suggestion from Down Under that all car mirrors should have warnings to look out for cyclists to prevent doorings. An Aussie man is ticketed for doing 35 in a school zone — on a bike.

Finally, a pantsless woman was arrested for shoplifting at an OC bike shop, reportedly jamming parts and accessories into her somewhat lacking attire. It’s a wonder any of our bike-riding forebears survived the ‘40s, though they seem to have had a different definition of head-on in those days.

And George Wolfberg forwards a warning that the bees that tried to kill me on the bike path may be bringing in robotic reinforcements.

4 comments

  1. Judge Joe Taggart is an elected judge. Gah.

    I have a sister in law who’s a local justice of the peace in Texas (and her name is Judy, so yeah, we call her Judge Judy). She has no legal training whatsoever, but she’s the city judge for civil cases and automotive infractions just like the one the Mionske story is about.

  2. Bob Mionski’s article reflects a very scary reality. I know the most well-meaning people who “feel” the way Judge Taggart feels. But it is truly shocking when someone in a position of power, like Taggart, fails to get educated and acts on ignorance.

  3. cycler says:

    I saw that comment by Forester in the NYT article. Thought it was interesting that no one really engaged his comment- no replies and only one “recommend” Maybe it’s a different crowd, but having him comment on any bike blog would be red meat for a “lively discussion”.

  4. Biker395 says:

    Sadly, many judges wouldn’t know good judgment if it bit them in the nose. Even worse, a lot of what goes on in their courtroom is subject to their “discretion” and not reversed upon appeal unless they abuse it. I think the Mississippi case is a good example of abuse. That judge needs some education.

    I ride the Hermosa Av. sharrows all the time, and haven’t had any problems yet. Most motorists understand what they’re for (and if they don’t, there are the signs that explain it).

    As far as I’m aware, the notion that following the motorist to take a photo of his license plate was some kind of arrestable crime is utter nonsense, and you’d have been justified in telling him as much.

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