How Not to Deal with Law Enforcement While Riding Your Bicycle

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.

How to Improve Your Chances of Surviving Riding a Bicycle on Our Roads

The following are a few of the lessons I’ve learned that allow me to survive riding a bike in Pinellas County, one of the most heavily populated counties in the country:

1. Be courteous, courteous, courteous, even when the driver may not have earned it. Too many times, we cyclists are very willing to give a hand gesture to a motorist who displeases us. Rather, try to cultivate a bicycle culture of civility to all drivers: you will be surprised how many will respond in kind.
2. When group riding, never swarm a motor vehicle. Some may wonder what this means: when a group approaches a stopped vehicle, normally at a controlled intersection, many cyclists will pass on either side of the vehicle to gain a little bit of space. The effect is to virtually surround the stopped car. It can be terrifying to the driver; and it without a doubt will not endear cyclists to that driver in the future.
3. Whenever at a red light, where there is any other vehicle in the area, do not roll or run that light: the driver seeing you do that maneuver may just be one of your jurors if the time ever comes where you are in court for injuries from a vehicle/cycle accident. Even where the accident was clearly not your fault, anyone on that jury with a bad past experience with cyclists will punish you. May not be fair, but it is reality.
4. If in a large group, where the first quarter of the group has passed the intersection when the light turns red, that does not give the other three quarters of the group license to continue through the intersection, blocking drivers with a green light. I know the concerns for stopping by the cyclists; that’s why we all have big voices. Use them. If you think about it, angering drivers of vehicles that weigh 200 times your bicycle makes no sense. While they may not hit you, many will “punish” you in the future with a brush back pass. While not legal, no one should ever want to be “dead right.”
Common sense and courtesy on the road is not only good practice, it could save your life or the life of another cyclist. Even if you are a large, big-voiced, intimidating cyclist (No John S., I’m not referring to you), by your immature actions towards a driver, you may be setting the stage for another cyclist’s nightmare. Let’s work harder to be friends of motorists; let’s work harder to cultivate favor with the motorists with whom we have no choice but to cohabit our streets. We may never win over some motorists, but we must continually try to be good users of our roads and to show others cyclists that we can be safe, law-abiding participants in our society.