A new type of anti-harassment law holds aggressive drivers accountable for their behavior
By Bob Mionske
Although the roads belong to everybody, some motorists don’t see it that way. Maybe you’ve had a run-in with a driver who threw something at you or even tried to force you off the road. Such acts are illegal, but unless a police officer witnesses the crime, it’s very difficult to bring the motorist to justice.
That’s starting to change. Last year, the city of Los Angeles passed an anti-harassment law—the first of its kind in the nation—that empowers cyclists in new ways. Lawmakers elsewhere are starting to take notice: In February, Berkeley, California, passed its own version of the law. Last fall, cyclists in Washington, DC, fought for one as well, although it has not yet passed. Here’s how the new type of legislation evens the playing field—and why you should encourage your local or state representatives to enact a similar law.
DEFINES HARASSMENT The law identifies specific types of behavior—such as yelling, honking the horn, passing too close, swerving toward a cyclist, or throwing objects out the window—that qualify as harassment, so drivers can’t argue that what they did wasn’t really against the law.
HELPS YOU SUE The new law makes it financially easier for cyclists to pursue justice in civil court. It specifies that you may sue for triple the actual damages—or $1,000, whichever is higher—for each violation. You may also seek punitive damages. You still need to provide evidence, such as an eyewitness account, that the driver harassed you. But because it is a civil trial, you don’t have to prove the driver’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. It is enough to prove that the driver probably harassed you.
MAKES IT EASIER TO GET A LAWYER The law also allows cyclists to sue aggressive drivers for attorney’s fees. This makes these cases more appealing to lawyers because they know there’s a better chance they’ll get paid for their work.
Research and assistance by Rick Bernardi, J.D.
This article, No More Bullying, was originally published on Bicycling on August 8, 2012.