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Road Rights – When Nature Calls

By June 25, 2010October 23rd, 2021No Comments

By Bob Mionske

What to do when you’re out in public–and feel the urge

Unlike most other sports, bicycling often takes place on the public commons of roadways, recreational paths and parks. It is the public aspect of these places that allows us to use them for our sport, as long as we don’t infringe on the rights of others. But it is also this aspect that leads to a unique problem: What do we do when it’s time to take care of business?

In most sports venues, whether a field or indoors, there are facilities at hand. But out in the public domain, we can’t always count on that. Sure, if your peloton is taking a break at a cafe, your problem is solved, but what about when you’re miles from a public restroom and need immediate relief?

Although networks may not show that part of the Tour de France on television, during the early portions of many stages the peloton pulls over on the roadside to take a nature break en masse. The fact is, European attitudes toward the human body are more relaxed than those in the United States, and it’s understood that athletes engaged in a long-distance sport will necessarily need to stop and relieve themselves.

But what is perfectly natural in Europe can lead to legal problems for the indiscreet in the States. Some simple precautions should keep you out of trouble.

KEEP PRIVATES PRIVATE The most serious potential legal charge around public urination is indecent exposure, or exposing your private parts–and in particular, with lascivious intent–to others who are in a position to see you. If you could have avoided exposing yourself, but chose not to, you run the risk that your exposure will be perceived as sexual in nature. Even if you explain that you were only tinkling, that claim may be perceived as an attempt to cover the fact that you have committed a crime.

Indecent exposure is a sex crime, and a conviction means you may be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of your life. To avoid such trouble, take reasonable precautions to avoid exposing your private parts to others who might be able to see you.

CHOOSE YOUR VENUE WISELY Even if you take care not to expose yourself to others, you still run the risk of a charge of disorderly conduct. This is a less serious charge, but it can result in jail time and fines. With disorderly conduct, you are indiscreet about where you choose to go. For example, turning your back while relieving yourself on a deserted stretch of country road will not likely be seen as disorderly conduct. The same behavior in a residential neighborhood or on a busy thoroughfare may well be judged as a misdemeanor.

LEAVE NO TRACE In addition to being careful about where you go, you must also take precautions not to create a condition that is “physically offensive to the public.” A prime example of what this means: A couple of years ago, residents near the University of Arizona complained that some of the participants in Tucson’s popular weekly Shootout ride had left unwelcome “gifts” on their front lawns. Although your need may be urgent, you still have a responsibility to take reasonable precautions not to create physically offensive conditions. If you want to avoid a conviction for disorderly conduct, you need to use common-sense discretion.

If despite taking all of the above precautions, you are still charged with an offense, your best defense will be “I really, really had to go.” Courts are generally not sympathetic to defendants who publicly expose themselves, but if you take reasonable precautions to avoid exposing yourself or otherwise engaging in disorderly conduct, the courts tend to be understanding of the urgency of nature’s imperative.

Research and drafting by Rick Bernardi, JD.

Now read the fine print:
Bob Mionske is a former competitive cyclist who represented the U.S. at the 1988 Olympic games (where he finished fourth in the road race), the 1992 Olympics, as well as winning the 1990 national championship road race.
After retiring from racing in 1993, he coached the Saturn Professional Cycling team for one year before heading off to law school. Mionske’s practice is now split between personal-injury work, representing professional athletes as an agent and other legal issues facing endurance athletes (traffic violations, contract, criminal charges, intellectual property, etc).
Mionske is also the author of Bicycling and the Law, designed to be the primary resource for cyclists to consult when faced with a legal question. It provides readers with the knowledge to avoid many legal problems in the first place, and informs them of their rights, their responsibilities, and what steps they can take if they do encounter a legal problem.
If you have a cycling-related legal question, please send it to Bob will answer as many of these questions privately as he can. He will also select a few questions each week to answer in this column. General bicycle-accident advice can be found at
Important notice:
The information provided in the “Road Rights” column is not legal advice. The information provided on this public web site is provided solely for the general interest of the visitors to this web site. The information contained in the column applies to general principles of American jurisprudence and may not reflect current legal developments or statutory changes in the various jurisdictions and therefore should not be relied upon or interpreted as legal advice. Understand that reading the information contained in this column does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Bob Mionske. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained in the web site without first seeking the advice of legal counsel.