Published: Sunday, April 15, 2012
By Keith Clines, The Huntsville Times
HUNTSVILLE, Alabama – If there’s one thing I’ve learned writing this column for more than 11 years, it’s this: Bicyclists have the right to ride on public roads and are subject to the same traffic laws as motorists.
I receive many complaints from drivers who say that bicycle riders don’t follow the rules of the road. The riders routinely run stop signs, run red lights, weave in and out of lanes and so forth, some readers say.
So, how well do bicycle riders comply with traffic laws?
According to statitistics provided by Huntsville police, they’ve issued 11 traffic tickets to bike riders since Jan. 1, 2008.
All of the tickets issued, except one, have been for improper reflectors or lights. One ticket in the past four-plus years was issued to a rider for not wearing a helmet.
There were no tickets issued for running a red light, running a stop sign, not giving a proper turn signal or even for speeding.
There may be several reason why so few tickets are issued to bike riders:
* Bicyclists, like motorists, probably don’t break traffic laws when they see an officer in a patrol car.
* Issuing traffic tickets to bicyclists is not a priority for Huntsville police.
* Many times police will give a bicyclist a warning and have an educational discussion with the rider about traffic laws.
Bicycles represent a small percentage of the vehicles on city streets and are not often involved in traffic accidents, said Capt. Rodney Baker, commander of the Police Department’s Special Operations Division.
Of the 7,050 traffic accidents in Huntsville in 2011, only 20 (or 0.28 percent) involved bicycles, Baker said.
Analysis of statistics of dangerous locations and other causes of wrecks does not put the actions of bicyclists “in one of our high priority categories,” Baker said.
“Nonetheless, officers occasionally witness an offense and issue a traffic citation to the rider of a bicycle for violating a traffic law,” he said. “Officers are encouraged to use good judgment and discretion when dealing with the public. Many police contacts with cyclists are educational in nature with officers warning cyclists and discussing information on the rules of the road.”
Leon Hayes is one city resident who apparently would like to see police issue more traffic tickets to bike riders.
Hayes said in an email that, from what he’s seen lately, all bicyclists are not obeying traffic laws.
“Case in point,” Hayes said, “recently I observed a bicyclist in downtown Huntsville disregarding every red light encountered. Also, after that, just a few days ago near my residence, I observed a rider disregarding a stop sign. Of course, there was no law enforcement around to ticket these two instances. Don’t know if an officer would even bother in such cases.”
Baker said that all city police officers receive specific training about bicycle safety, awareness, rules of the road, and the importance of enforcement to reduce injuries and deaths.
Officers are often assigned specific traffic detail and they also enforce traffic laws on routine patrol, Baker said.
“Our primary traffic enforcement efforts are directed at locations where we have numerous accidents, accidents with fatalities and accidents with injuries,” Baker said. “We also target specific primary contributors that cause the majority of these accidents.”
Baker said that the Police Department is represented on the city’s Bicycle Awareness Safety Committee, which “continues to explore methods to better educate both cyclists and motorists on basic laws and share the road principals.”