Tag Archive for Vulnerable User Law

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.

A comprehensive California Bike Safety Law

Let’s pick up where we left off last time.

As you may recall, I’d commented on the LACBC’s proposed Vulnerable User Law, which would increase penalties for anyone convicted of careless driving who kills or injures a cyclist, pedestrian or other vulnerable road users.

A good start, I said. But only a start, because what’s needed is a more comprehensive reform of the laws intended to ensure our place on the road, keep cars and bikes from coming in contact and governing what happens when they do.

That led to a comment from Chet K, who identified himself as a member of the LACBC, and said that the organization is open to the possibility of legislation that goes beyond a strict focus on vulnerable users. As he put it,

I don’t believe LACBC has discounted any possible solution, or set of solutions, that could result in safer roadways. What is needed is more constructive input and participation by interested road users to help push this forward.

So let’s take them up on that.

If you’ve been a regular visitor here — or you’ve clicked the links at the top of this page — you probably have a pretty good idea where I stand on the subject. So let’s take a look at some of the provisions that have already been passed in other states lately that could form the basis for a comprehensive California Bike Safety Law:

Three foot passing law — Colorado, Massachusetts, Indiana, South Carolina and Louisiana have recently joined a growing list of states that require that drivers pass cyclists at a minimum of three feet distance, and allow drivers to briefly cross lane dividers when necessary to pass a cyclist safely.

• Prohibit harassment of cyclists — Colorado, Indiana, Louisiana, South Carolina and the city of Columbia, Missouri have passed laws that prohibit intentionally striking, throwing objects, yelling or honking at cyclists in a manner intended to startle, anger, frighten or injure them.

Ban right hooks, left crosses and cutting off cyclists after passing — Massachusetts now prohibits turning into the path of an oncoming cyclist or cutting back into the lane until safely clear of a cyclist; many drivers don’t learn the inherent danger of turning or cutting in front of a cyclist until it’s too late.

Safer signaling rules — Colorado, Indiana, Massachusetts and South Carolina now allow signaling for right turns by either bending the left arm upward, or pointing right with the right arm. In addition, many of the states no longer require a continuous signal if traffic or road conditions require the rider to keep both hands on the handlebars.

Give cyclists greater legal protection in bike lanes — Colorado has taken an important step by extending the same legal protection enjoyed by pedestrians in a crosswalk to cyclists riding in a bike lane. In addition, many of the states have banned drivers from blocking bike lanes.

Riding two abreast is explicitly permitted — Colorado, Indiana, Massachusetts and South Carolina have eliminated any confusion over whether cyclists are allowed to ride side-by-side in the roadway, allowing two-abreast riding as long as it doesn’t impede the normal flow of traffic.

Treat non-responsive red lights as a flashing red — Indiana has recognized that bikes are frequently unable to trigger the roadway sensors that cause traffic signals to turn green; as a result, cyclists there are now allowed to proceed through a red light after stopping and waiting a reasonable period of time.

Require police training in bike law — Massachusetts now requires that all police recruits complete a training program developed in conjunction with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to ensure that eventually all officers will be well-versed in the rights and responsibilities of cyclists.

Explicitly ban dooring — Massachusetts has also made it a violation to open a car or truck door into a passing cyclist, or directly in the path a cyclist — accidently or otherwise.

In addition, most of these states have clarified the hard-to-define and frequently misunderstood requirement to ride as far to the right as practical with language that recognizes the need to take the lane when necessary to avoid obstacles or obstructions, or when the lane is too narrow to allow safe passing. And most require that drivers be educated in both the new laws and the rights of riders.

So which of these laws are right for a California Bike Safety Law?

All of them.

My suggestion would be to start with the Massachusetts law. Then add in provisions to ban harassment of cyclists, give riders in a bike lane the same protection as pedestrians in a crosswalk, ban blocking of bike lanes, and allow cyclists to ride through red lights that don’t change on their own after waiting a reasonable amount of time. And include the LACBC’s proposed Vulnerable User Law, as well.

Of course, you may be wondering if all this is really necessary. So ask yourself this. Are cyclists still getting harassed, injured and killed on our streets?

Then yes, it is.


Stephen and Enci Box are attempting to film without fossil fuel. Alex notes the Palms Neighborhood Council unanimously endorsed the Cyclists’ Bill of Rights. Metblogs says you could get a ticket for riding the wrong way on Speedway. West Hollywood clarifies the laws regarding riding on the sidewalk. San Diego cracks down on pedicabs after a tourist is killed. A Texas man is honored for giving over 4,000 bikes to underprivileged children. Bob Mionske discusses the Idaho Stop Law. Finally, Damien is asking for input designing a questionnaire for the candidates to replace Wendy Greuel in L.A.’s Council District 2, and Stephen Box notes the issues that will frame the debate and where you can meet the candidates. Because things won’t get better for cyclists in this city until we elect a government that makes it a priority.

LACBC and the proposed California Vulnerable User Law

The LACBC has been busy lately.

The 11-year old organization, more formally known as the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, has rapidly grown to become the area’s leading bicycling organization. Yet when you talk to cyclists, it’s not that unusual to hear various complaints about the group — mostly along the lines of “they don’t do anything.”

Personally, I haven’t had enough interaction with LACBC to offer an informed opinion. Though I can say that virtually every time I’ve attended a meeting of the city council, transportation committee or the Bicycle Advisory Committee to address some bicycling issue, they’ve been there as well.

In just the last few months, they’ve addressed issues ranging from the Sharrows Pilot Project and a potential bikeway along Compton Creek, to making the 4th Street Bike Boulevard a reality. As well as taking a very polite stand on improving the proposed, and much-maligned, L.A. Bike Master Plan.

Recently, though, the LACBC sent out an email blast announcing that they were working with various agencies to develop a Vulnerable User Law, “which protects cyclists, pedestrians, highway workers, skateboarders, and other vulnerable road users and it establishes stricter penalties for anyone who kills or seriously injures a vulnerable user and is convicted of careless driving.”

Oregon and Illinois have already passed similar laws, while the governor of Texas recently vetoed such legislation. And several other states, including New York and Rhode Island have considered their own bills, with varying degrees of success.

It’s a revolutionary concept in American liability law, establishing stricter penalties for drivers who kill or injure cyclists, pedestrians and other vulnerable users — in other words, anyone on the street who isn’t protected by 2,000 or more pounds of steel and glass.

However, it doesn’t begin to approach the laws in Denmark and Holland, which assign responsibility for any accident to the driver, because, as a European Union proposal put it, “Whoever is responsible, pedestrians and cyclists usually suffer more.”

Or as the publication Cycling in the Netherlands, published by the Dutch Directorate-General for Passenger Transport puts it:

Something that should not be overlooked in the safety section: Liability. In some countries, bicycling is seen as causing danger, which sometimes ends up in an anti-cycling policy. The Dutch philosophy is: Cyclists are not dangerous; cars and car drivers are: so car drivers should take the responsibility for avoiding collisions with cyclists. This implies that car drivers are almost always liable when a collision with a bicycle occurs and should adapt their speed when bicycles share the roads with cyclists.

On the other hand, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to pass a law anywhere in the U.S. that automatically assigns responsibility to the driver in the event of an accident — and especially in car-centric California.

But it just might be possible to assign greater responsibility to the operator of the more dangerous vehicle. For instance, bus and truck drivers would bear more responsibility than car drivers; car drivers would bear more responsibility than motorcyclists; motorcyclists would bear more responsibility than bicyclists, who would have more responsibility than pedestrians.

In each case, the operator of the more dangerous vehicle should have greater responsibility for avoiding a collision simply because they are capable of causing greater harm.

But I also have another concern about the LACBC’s proposal.

Their decision to focus on a Vulnerable User Law ignores the need for a more encompassing Bicycle Safety Law, such as those recently passed in Colorado and Massachusetts — laws that mandate a minimum three-foot passing distance, ban harassment of cyclists, and give cyclists riding in a bike lane the same level of protection as a pedestrian in a crosswalk, among other things.

Yes, a Vulnerable User Law can and should be a part of that. But only a part of it.

And by focusing only on just on aspect, it greatly reduces the possibility that a competing Bike Safety Law could be passed in the same legislative session. A law that would protect a rider’s safety before an accident, rather than merely increasing the penalty afterwards — and then only if the driver is charged with careless driving.

It’s a good start.

But it’s only a start.


The LACBC is also looking for volunteers to count pedestrians and cyclists at key intersections throughout the city. A Malibu writer says it’s time to get bikes off of PCH. Streetsblog’s Damien Newton invites riders to join him for a tour of Park(ing) Day LA installations. Pasadena considers heresy by removing a car lane for cyclists and pedestrians at the Rose Bowl. A boy is hit by a car while riding in Winnetka. If you need more speed for your next crit, an Oregon man is offering home-made rocket engines for bicycles. Maybe you missed this video of a New York cyclist using his U-lock on an angry pedestrian. A firefighter is charged with shooting a cyclist after trying to warn him against riding with his child on a busy street. A British grocer is forced to pull its ad for a build-it-yourself bike after viewers notice they put the fork on backwards. Cyclists in Kenya can recharge their cell phones while riding their bikes. Finally, this year’s le Tour winner says he has no respect for Lance — and never did. I guess seven wins just doesn’t mean what it used to.

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