We have had two recent incidents I’ve been made aware of with bicyclist interaction with law enforcement that bear discussion. I’m not using any names, and to each of those individuals, I apologize if using your situation as a teaching moment offends you. I have inserted hypotheticals in both examples.
First example: police officer incorrectly tells cycling group to get into single file on a road without designated bike lanes where it is not illegal to ride two (but not more than two) abreast. One of the cyclists yelled back at the officer words to the effect: “we are allowed to ride side by side on this road.” While the cyclist was correct, it’s my advice as an attorney to all cyclists: don’t get into a yelling match with the officer who has an infinite number of choices of which ticket to write you if you piss them off. Not saying fair; but, I am saying it’s not the best way to guarantee a good outcome. Hypothetically, because I don’t have firsthand information, such conflicts can quickly escalate. When that happens, the cyclist may want to insulate himself/herself by giving, upon demand, a false name to law enforcement. BAD IDEA! Now the interaction has escalated to the commission of a potential felony.
Just because you are right, and correctly know the law, you have to pick the correct time to have such a discussion. Trying to show up the officer, even when the officer is wrong, in order to impress your fellow cyclists, or to prove a point, is not a good idea.
Second example: you are riding home from one of our weekday rides; you are minding your own business on a residential street; a car turns in front of you, either striking you, or causing you to strike the car, but in any event, clearly violating your right of way. The officer arrives, starts asking questions that you don’t like, and besides, you’ve just been hit by a car, so you get a bit “uppity” with the idiot cop. BAD IDEA! First, it doesn’t matter who hit the other, what matters is who violated the other’s right of way. My experience is that almost no one starts the cyclist on an even keel with the motorist, including investigating officers. Understanding the adrenaline is pumping, and you’re upset, the last thing you want to do is alienate the officer on the scene. If necessary, take a step back, APOLOGIZE to the cop, and, under no circumstance, curse at the cop or at the circumstance where the officer may believe you just cursed at him/her. That won’t get you any favors with the officer .
Even though the officer’s decision as to who to cite for a violation will not be admissible in any civil court unless the cited party actually pleads guilty in traffic court, which rarely happens, what the officer chooses to do can definitely influence the insurance company and adjusters you may be dealing with if you are injured.
In summary: keep your cool; if you can’t do so, back away and give yourself time to calm down; and be polite and professional with any investigating officer. To not do so is to invite unneeded trouble.
Be safe out there.