Why change the law, if no one’s going to obey it anyway?

One more thought about this week’s topic before I climb down from my soapbox.

As I noted yesterday, states and towns across the country are reforming their traffic laws to encourage bicycling and help keep riders safer on the roads. But without adequate enforcement, even the most well-reasoned reform is meaningless.

Consider Tucson, where Erik Ryberg — the Tucson Bike Lawyer — reports that not one driver has been cited for violating Arizona’s three-foot passing law in the first six months of this year, and only three all of last year. This despite the fact that several local riders have been struck by cars, which would seem to indicate that the drivers were just a little closer than that.

Or take Tennessee, which has a well-deserved reputation for failing to enforce its own three-foot passing law — even in a recent case where a popular cycling advocate was killed when a truck passed so close that it hooked his saddlebag and threw him under the trucks back wheels. It’s gotten so bad that the governor himself has weighed in on the subject.

Then there’s California’s highly publicized ban on using a hand-held cell phone while driving. Despite the inherent dangers of distracted driving, and the relief felt by cyclists around the state when it finally took effect, the law has been almost universally ignored.

According to the San Jose Mercury News, over 200,000 tickets have been written for violations of the law so far. Yet you don’t have to watch traffic very long to observe a passing driver holding a phone to his or her ear. And virtually every time I have a close call with a motorist, it’s almost a given that the driver will be holding a phone.

Don’t believe me?

Try it yourself. Next time you’re out on the street, watch the passing cars and see how many drivers you can count with their cell phones illegally plastered to their ears — or God forbid, texting. And note how closely those drivers correlate to the ones actively demonstrating a high degree of stupidity behind the wheel.

Then again, there’s no shortage of traffic laws being to be ignored these days.

Once you get tired of counting cell phones, try keeping track of how many moving violations you see. From everyday scofflaw-isms like speeding, failure to signal, illegal lane changes and failure to come to a complete stop, to more exotic moves like making a three-point U-turn while blocking oncoming traffic, or cutting across four lanes of traffic to make a right turn from the left lane — all of which I saw on a brief two-mile trip through Century City this afternoon.

And don’t forget to include yourself in that tally — and yes, Idaho stops count, even if there is valid evidence to back them up.

The unfortunate fact is, many people, both drivers and cyclists, feel they can do whatever they want on the roads these days. Because experience has taught them that they will probably get away with it.

Go back to that little test counting moving violations. All those people on the roads you saw break the law, exactly how many of them were stopped by the police as a result of their actions?

Chances are, the answer is zero. Because there simply aren’t enough police officers on the streets to enforce traffic laws, especially not here in L.A.

And without enforcement, there is no compliance.

And without compliance, even the most well-reasoned Bike Safety Law will be absolutely meaningless.

So yes, we need to change the law. But more than that, we have to find a way to enforce the laws we already have.


Mark your calendar for the Brentwood Grand Prix on Sunday, August 9th. Long Beach cycling photographer Russ Roca and his wife a documenting a cross-country, then international, bike tour. A popular cyclist from my home town is recovering after being critically injured when struck from behind on a group ride. Also from Colorado, the state police now have a dedicated phone line for cyclists to report dangerous and aggressive drivers — yet another idea we might want to copy. Tucson police follow-up if a driver leaves the scene after hitting another car, but hit a cyclist? Not so much. Iowa considers banning bikes from farm-to-market roads. New York’s city council votes to let bikes into the workplace. The Cycling Lawyer, non-Tucson edition, explains how to respond to, and hopefully defuse, road rage. Before and after shots of Ashford, England’s new carnage-free shared road space. Finally, that DIY virtual bike lane that everyone wants just won the International Design Excellence Award.


  1. timur says:

    A perfect solution (though entirely tongue-in-cheek): We deputize a squad of cyclists to pedal through traffic at rush hour. If they see someone talking on their phone while stuck in traffic (from my memory of riding through Beverly Hills at rush hour, a fairly common experience), they ride up to the window, ask them to roll it down, and then hand them a ticket. Not only would it be the hassle of a ticket, but it would be (oh the indignity!) delivered by a cyclist.

    You know who I nominate for LA’s first dedicated cyclist-ticketing-cell-users? Will Campbell.

    • bikinginla says:

      I think you’re on to something. But can we just take their phones, instead? I mean, who’s gonna argue with Will and his stun gun?

  2. Scott says:

    Just to be clear, I don’t think Russ Roca is married. I believe he’s with his girlfriend.

  3. CEC says:

    easy to understand, isn’t it ?

    When enough people ignore a law, either the law is not enforced, or the law is changed. It has something to do with something called an 85 percentile rule that is used a lot. If 85% of the people are doing something, then it must be OK.

    Prohibition sounded good to a lot of people. Just look at the lives that have been destroyed.

    Enough people wanted to keep on drinking,so, guess whaat ? Law was changed.

    Maybe in a free society, that is the way it has to work.

    Some things can not be solved to the satisfaction of everybody.

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