Three years ago, a popular and well-known member of Chattanooga’s cycling community was buzzed by a driver who claims he never saw the cyclist, even though the cyclist was, according to friends, “lit up like a Christmas tree,” and was riding with “an obnoxiously bright blinking red light on the back of his bike when he was hit.”
The cyclist, David Meek, was sideswiped by the passing truck and thrown under the rear wheels. He suffered severe injuries, and was taken to a local hospital. He did not survive, succumbing to his injuries.
Although the driver had sideswiped Meek, and although a 3 foot safe passing law had already been on the books in Tennessee for nearly two years, the driver was never charged with a traffic violation. In fact, as Bob detailed in False Protection, Chattanooga police seemed to be bending over backwards to invent new legal theories to exonerate the driver.
David Meek was denied justice by a police department that didn’t understand, or didn’t want to understand the law. But what’s done is done. Three years have passed. Since then, more states have adopted safe passing laws, and slowly, the laws are beginning to be enforced.
Except, apparently, in Chattanooga, Tennnessee. Or more precisely, the enclave of Red Bank. Recently, a cyclist on a ride with the Chattanooga Bicycle Club was buzzed and run off the road, sustaining minor injuries. Another club member was able to get the license number of the fleeing vehicle, and the cyclist who had been run off the road called the Red Bank police to report the incident.
Three feet to pass. Increasingly, it’s becoming the standard for the minimum distance at which motorists should pass cyclists—and increasingly, it’s becoming the law. When a state passes a “3 foot law,” the existing legal requirement to pass at a “safe passing distance” is changed to a requirement to pass at a “minimum safe passing distance”—typically 3 feet, but sometimes more, some times less, depending on the state. When a state establishes what a minimum safe passing distance means, motorists, police, courts, and juries are all given guidance about the bare minimum requirement for making a safe pass. Even with a minimum safe passing distance, overtaking drivers are still required to pass cyclists at a “safe distance,” and depending on conditions, that “safe distance” may be greater than the minimum distance specified by the law. But no driver can pass closer than the minimum distance specified in the law and argue in court that the pass was legal.
Earlier this year, we received a call from a cyclist in Huntington, West Virginia. That cyclist, a man named Tony Patrick, had a hair-raising story to tell about his encounter with a Sheriff’s Deputy across the Ohio River in Chesapeake, Ohio. The Deputy, who was unfamiliar with Ohio law regarding cyclists, ordered Tony off the road, and when Tony asserted his rights under Ohio law, the Deputy escalated, eventually tasing Tony before placing him under arrest. At a pre-trial hearing, the Judge dismissed all charges against Tony, because Tony had not violated any laws, and thus, the arrest had been unlawful. Recently, Tony filed a lawsuit alleging that his civil rights were violated in what was described as his
“illegal and intentional detention, attack, beating, arrest and Tasering...”
Unfortunately, this was not an isolated case of one officer not understanding the law as it applies to cycling. As we have previously documented, law enforcement officers do not always understand the laws they are charged with enforcing. And as we recently reported, that phenomenon continues in Los Angeles, where an LAPD task force is citing cyclists for violating a law that does not exist.