California Cyclists Buzzed--By the CHP!

By Rick Bernardi

When the Beatles were in the studio recording what has gone down in music history as “the most important rock & roll album ever made,” Paul McCartney, working on one of his songs, sang “it’s getting better all the time”… to which John Lennon countered “it couldn’t get no worse.”

Bicycling advocacy is kind of like that. Every now and then, bicycling advocacy advances another step. But the victories we win are just the visible tip of the iceberg. Often unseen are the lives forever changed by traffic violence, and the years of battles fought to put a much-needed, common-sense law into place. The three-foot safe passing law is one such example. Safe passing has always been required by law, and yet there are countless examples of drivers passing cyclists within inches—and sometimes, by much less.

And yet the burden has always been on the victims of traffic violence to prove that the unsafe pass was in fact unsafe. In response to this topsy-turvy, Alice-In-Wonderland application of the law, a movement sprang up to establish a minimum safe-passing distance in all of the states. If drivers were incapable of determining what makes a safe distance when passing cyclists, the law would spell it out for them. Typically, states have established 3 feet as the minimum safe-passing distance, although that minimum does vary in some states. For example, in Virginia, the minimum was 2 feet (now increased to 3 feet as of last July), while in Pennsylvania, it is 4 feet—and in New Hampshire, the minimum starts at 3 feet for a driver passing at 30 MPH, but increases by 1 foot with every10 MPH increase in the driver’s speed, up to a 5 feet minimum safe passing distance at 50 MPH.

Ten months ago, California joined the ranks of states that have established a minimum safe passing distance for cyclists. That was an advocacy victory for cyclists, but lying just below the surface, unseen, was just how hard it was to get the law passed. In fact, the California Legislature had passed a three-foot safe passing law 3 times, but Governor Brown sided squarely with unsafe drivers when he vetoed the law the first two times it was passed. Still, the law finally instructed California drivers about what constitutes a minimum safe passing distance, and even instructed drivers about how to make a safe pass when it’s not possible to leave three feet of safe passing distance. Although the law is not perfect (it was weakened at Governor Brown’s insistence), that’s still a victory for cyclists.

But as we might expect, not all drivers got the message. That’s where enforcement comes in. Without enforcement, the message sent to unsafe drivers is that they will not be held accountable. And early warnings about three-foot laws were that they would be unenforceable, because law enforcement wouldn’t be able to prove that a driver passed closer than 3 feet.

In fact, however, law enforcement officers in several cities (Austin, Texas, Naples, Florida, and Chattanooga, Tennessee) have demonstrated that where the will to enforce the law exists, it is enforceable. So passing these laws is one hurdle, but it’s not the last hurdle; the laws help educate the public, but enforcement is still the key to making the law work.

But what happens when the dangerous driver is a law enforcement officer? This was the question raised in an incident in Los Angeles County this past Saturday, when a California Highway Patrol officer buzzed two cyclists outside of Glendora, CA—and then returned to copsplain why the cyclists were in the wrong (see the video here).

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The Bike Law Interview: Bruce Hagen, Bike Law Georgia

When I first teamed up with Peter Wilborn and Ann Groninger to help launch the Bike Law network, there were exactly four states in the network—Maryland and South Carolina, represented by Peter, North Carolina, represented by Ann, and my own state, Oregon

Since then, the network has expanded to 22 states, and continues to grow.  In fact, it is now possible for a cyclist to ride coast to coast, or from our southern border to our northern border, and always be riding in a Bike Law network state. You can now even cross into Canada and still be riding within the Bike Law network!

One of the more recent states to be brought into the Bike Law network is Georgia, ably represented by Georgia bicycle accident attorney Bruce Hagen.  Recently, I had a chance to talk with Bruce about bicycle law, advocacy, and of course, lots of great bicycling in the great state of Georgia. Here’s what he had to say.

Bruce Hagen, Bike Law Georgia

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The Bike Law Interview: Vance Preman , Bike Law Missouri and Bike Law Kansas

Last July, a cyclist was attacked in a road rage incident in Sunset Hills, Missouri. The cyclist, Randy Murdick, alleged that after the driver had yelled “Get off my roads!” he swerved into the cyclist, knocking him off his bike. The cyclist was injured and his road bike was damaged in the incident, which went viral when it was further alleged that the road raging driver was Mark Furrer, then-Mayor of Sunset Hills.

But despite the shocking nature of the attack, the Mayor’s alleged road rage was clearly out of step with city governments across the state, which are increasingly passing strong measures to protect cyclists from harassment.

Recently, I caught up with attorney Vance Preman of Bike Law Missouri and Bike Law Kansas; we had the opportunity to chat about this incident, as well as other issues, and the state of cycling in Kansas and Missouri. Despite one bad incident making the national news, the good things happening in Kansas and Missouri bicycling are clearly the real news. Like anywhere else, there's still plenty of work to be done, but if, like me, you want to know what's really happening in Kansas and Missouri, read on, as Vance Preman gives us an insider's perspective on the law, advocacy, and lots and lots of bike riding.

Bob Mionske and Vance Preman at the First Annual Bike Law Network Summit 

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Oregon Bicycle Helmet Laws: Your Rights and Duties

 Bicycle helmets have been in the news lately. Last month, Bike Law Illinois attorney Brendan Kevenides reported that an Illinois case may have some potential to hold Illinois cyclists liable for their own head injuries if they are hit by a car and are not wearing a helmet. The day before that report came out, a study was released which, among other things, suggested that two-thirds of all bicycling fatalities involved cyclists who were not wearing a helmet. Among the study’s recommendations was the adoption by the states of mandatory helmet laws (For an explanation of why the study was wrong, see Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics).

With these two recent developments in mind, let’s take a look at what the law in Oregon says about bicycle helmets. Oregon has four separate statutes regarding bicycle helmets. These statutes lay out the legal rights and duties of Oregon cyclists with regard to bicycle helmets.

Oregon Bicycle Accident Lawyer

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The Bike Law Interview: Amy Benner, Bike Law Tennessee

By Bob Mionske

Over the years, I’ve written a number of times about incidents in Tennessee. In 2009, there was the crash that killed David Meek, a well-known and popular Chattanooga cyclist. The morning of March 5, 2009, Meek was commuting to work when he was sideswiped by a passing truck, and thrown under the wheels. He was taken by ambulance to a hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries. Although Tennessee has a 3-foot safe passing law on the books, the traffic investigator invented an imaginary standard for safe passing that let the inattentive driver who had sideswiped Meek—“he never saw” Meek, even though Meek had been “lit up like a Christmas tree”—off the hook for Meek’s death.

Three weeks later, Ed Rusk, another Hamilton County cyclist, was deliberately buzzed and hit by a driver towing a trailer. And yet the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Deputy responding to the incident said that he couldn’t ticket the driver because the driver didn’t know about the 3-foot passing law.

And when the Deputy completed the accident report, he wrote that there was no evidence that the trailer had come into contact with Rusk. Even an eyewitness statement corroborating Rusk’s account of the collision was left out of the accident report. Thus, despite having deliberately hit a cyclist, the driver was not charged with any violation.

Nevertheless, several officials, including then-Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen, then-Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield, and then-Hamilton County Sheriff’s Public Information Officer Dusty Stokes had all announced their support of enforcing the 3 foot passing law.

Then, two years ago, Gary Hooper, another Chattanooga-area cyclist, was buzzed and run off the road by a car that passed within inches of his bike. A Chattanooga Bicycle Club member got the car’s license plate number, but when the incident was reported to the Red Bank Police Department, the cyclists were told that nothing could be done because the car hadn’t actually made contact with Hooper.

And in January of this year, another Chattanooga-area cyclist was assaulted in an incident that garnered the attention of cyclists nation-wide. After first repeatedly buzzing the cyclist, two local teens returned to the scene and assaulted him with pepper spray. But when the cyclist reported the assault, the tables were turned on him, with a Marion County Sheriff’s Sergeant accusing him of committing a felony by violating an imaginary law. The County prosecutor continued with the Kafkaesque turn of events by investigating the cyclist for assaulting the teens who had pepper sprayed him. Eventually, the truth came out, and the two teens were convicted, but that may be more a testament to the power of video evidence and social media than to the willingness of local law enforcement to take crimes against cyclists seriously (note, however, that the Chattanooga Police Department DID take the buzzing and assault very seriously, and would have charged the culprits if the incident had happened within their jurisdiction).

Taken together, all of these incidents suggest a law-enforcement culture that winks at drivers who endanger, assault, and even kill cyclists.

But the story is not that simple.

Chattanooga has made great strides in becoming a bicycle-friendly community, and the Chattanooga Police department has garnered a national reputation as a bicycle-friendly police force. And Memphis is also developing a national reputation on its way to becoming a great bicycle city

Clearly, the narrative coming from Tennessee is complex, and evolving. Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Tennessee bicycle accident attorney Amy Benner about the state of cycling in Tennessee.

Amy Benner  

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Bob Mionske on the 3-Foot Law

This news article featuring Bob Mionske has been reproduced here for our archives. To access the original article, follow the link.

Slowtwitch: Bob Mionske on the 3-foot law

Written by: Dan Empfield
Date: Tue Nov 04 2014

The narrative on our reader forum last week troubled me. Taken at face value it seemed a California Highway Patrol officer predisposed against cyclists interpreted the state's new 3-foot law as a way to take it out on a cohort he doesn't like. Of course, there may be more to the story (there often is). Happily, if this officer is cyclist-averse, he's likely in the small minority. I interviewed the CHP about this incident and about California's 3-foot law in general.

Then I turned to Bob Mionske for his take. Bob is an Olympic cyclist and the dean of bicycle accident attorneys. More than that, he's an expert on the rights of cyclists under the law. While California is not a state in which Mr. Mionske practices he's well acquainted with the elements of California's Motor Vehicle Code pertaining to cyclists.

SLOWTWITCH: With the advent of the 3-foot minimum buffer afforded bicyclists by a motorist when passing, a conflict created by the vehicle code can arise, and arose via a citation written in a rural part of San Diego County last week. When the Legislature passed the new 3-foot law there was no corresponding modification of Vehicle Code Section 21460, which restricts motorists from crossing a double yellow. My question: If, on a rural 2-lane road, an officer gives a motorist a citation for part of the vehicle crossing the double yellow in order to grant the cyclist room, assuming there was clearly sufficient room to do so without peril from an oncoming vehicle, what is the likeliest scenario in a courtroom if the motorist decides to contest this citation?

[ Keep Reading... ] Updates for November 04, 2014

Road Rights:

Road Rights: Taking on the Bullies
By Bob Mionske Cheryl, a former client of mine, was riding one of her regular routes, one she had ridden probabl...
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Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

By Rick Bernardi

"Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: 'There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.'"

- Mark Twain

Monday morning began this week with a bang, as a new study on Bicyclist Safety conducted for the Governors Highway Safety Association was released. A reporter from Iowa called to get Bob Mionske’s take on the study, and we hadn’t even seen the study yet. That’s how it goes sometimes.

So we began skimming through the study, and as we did, I was reminded of Mark Twain’s observation about “lies, damned lies, and statistics.” It was immediately apparent that the study was flawed. Deeply flawed. Well, it was at least apparent to us. But would it be apparent to everybody? Would it be apparent to the media? Or to the Governors of the various states?

It doesn’t seem likely. More likely, most people, including the media, and influential people on Governors staffs across the country, would read the summary and accept the statistical analysis as “fact.” And because the statistical analysis is so thoroughly misleading, so completely wrong, the study has the potential to lead to deeply flawed public policy prescriptions.

So what exactly is wrong with this study? Read on….

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Insurance Advice For Oregon Bicyclists

By Bob Mionske 

Oregon Bicycle Accident Lawyer

In some countries, comprehensive insurance policies are available for cyclists; like their counterparts for motorists, these policies cover cyclists for risks such as liability, personal injury, uninsured motorists, and theft. Until recently, comprehensive insurance policies for cyclists were not available in the United States; however, comprehensive bicycle insurance policies are now available in the United States too, and it is no longer necessary for cyclists who wish to be insured to piece together coverage from other policies. Nevertheless, some cyclists may prefer to piece together coverage from existing policies rather than purchase a stand-alone insurance comprehensive bicycle policy. Both options are now available for cyclists.

While cyclists are not required to be insured, I strongly advise all cyclists to consider at least one type of insurance coverage—UM/UIM—as essential. Other types of coverage, while not quite as essential, nevertheless provide benefits to cyclists comparable to some of the more common benefits of comprehensive auto insurance.

So what types of insurance are available for cyclists?

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The Bike Law Interview: Daniel Flanzig and Jim Reed, Bike Law New York

By Bob Mionske

New York is a study in contradictions. The state is ranked 29th for bicycle-friendliness in the League of American Bicyclists’ 2014 annual ranking. And yet New York City is ranked as the most bicycle-friendly city in America by Bicycling magazine. Under the leadership of Janette Sadik-Khan, and with the support of then-Mayor Bloomberg, the city made dramatic strides towards integrating bicyclists into the city‘s fabric. And yet under the leadership of then Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, the police department has seemed to be engaged in a war with cyclists, periodically engaging in stringent crackdowns for violating imaginary laws, all in the name of “bicycle safety,” while simultaneously refusing to charge dangerous drivers for real violations that have resulted in serious injuries and deaths.

But New York is bigger than The Big Apple, stretching upstate, north to the Adirondacks, and west to the Finger lakes, and beyond, to the Great Lakes. To get a better picture of the state of cycling in the Empire State, I recently talked with New York bicycle accident attorneys Daniel Flanzig and Jim Reed, of Bike Law New York.

Daniel Flanzig


Jim Reed


Bob: Daniel, Jim, thanks for taking the time to talk with me. First, I’d like to welcome you to the Bike Law network. You are both well-known in New York cycling circles; you co-author Wheels of Justice, a monthly column for the New York Bicycling Coalition, and are both board members of the NYBC. Can you tell me how you first got involved in representing cyclists in New York?

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