Monday, November 26, 2012

In the Know: Bicycles and the Law

My current collection of printed material related to cycling and the law ("Effective Cycling" omitted due to space)

"Let's say you're riding in compliance with this statute, and you're nevertheless cited for violating the statute. It happens, because police officers often do not understand the statute." --Bicycling and the Law, p. 61, regarding the ride as far to the right as practicable statutes, in Arizona for example, ARS 28-815 

"I didn't even know that statute existed!" --an otherwise knowledgeable and wise person/driver I work with, regarding ARS 28-815

"I know bikes have the right of way and all, but coming up on them riding in the lane like that, well, they just don't belong." --Repair guy I was talking with, about a family of four cyclists he overtook on a 45mph road

 [on blaming bicyclists for accidents even when drivers are negligent since bicycling is risky or dangerous anyway] "Would this argument make any sense to you? Hopefully not, and yet that is exactly what is being claimed when the assumption-of-risk defense is used in the context of auto/bike collisions...barring a few exceptions, courts have universally agreed that it is not a legitimate defense outside of the sporting context." -BatL, p. 25

I wish the laws related to cycling were clear but they often seem unclear. I wish more people who use the roads, by whatever conveyance, knew of and understood the traffic laws, and in my case particularly those related to bicycling, but the general level of understanding appears low. Finally, I wish the laws somehow protected cyclists, which is even on the face of it shaky (I know but that is how I feel), but the news items this year about cyclists being killed by drivers who faced minimal consequences compared to say killing someone with a shovel "accidentally" have me considering giving up cycling entirely. Not only or merely because I value my own skin, but more because I have responsibilities to my family. I don't want "The killer never saw the victim, so we'll only give him a small fine," to be my epitaph. 

Trying to learn more about the laws related to cycling, I picked up the book "Bicycling and the Law," by Bob Mionske, JD. Capsule review, it's thorough and fascinating, an engaging read, and while it provides excellent guidance and insights, like the law itself, it often seems to raise more questions than it answers.

All the stuff about "duty of care" sounds extremely encouraging, for example. He quotes this 1962 Supreme Court of Idaho Drury v. Palmer text, "It is the obligation of an operator of a motor vehicle to keep proper lookout. The whole theory of motor vehicle law is based on the requirement that the operator keep his vehicle under control at all times, considering actual and potential hazards, which of necessity contemplates proper lookout by the operator. It is not only the duty of the operator to look, but it is his duty to see and be cognizant of that which is plainly visible or obviously apparent, and a failure on his part in this regard, without proper justification or reason, makes him chargeable for failure to see what he should have seen had he been in the exercise of reasonable care." Yes! But, while reading that, I couldn't help think about Gregory and Alexandra Bruehler in Texas, and Shawn McCarty in Scottsdale (G00gLe for details). "Duty of care" and "proper lookout" sound powerful, but in the actual practice of our legal system seem to evaporate when it comes to matters related to cyclists.


But, you know me, I'm not going to give up bicycles. I will stand by the concept that knowledge is power, and make every effort to learn as much as I can about bicycling and the law. In addition, I will also try to learn and practice as much safe riding technique and strategy as I can, in an effort to at least lower my risks to the extent possible. The Mionske book seems like good support for increasing legal knowledge.

Compare and contrast, 2004 pamphlet with 2011 "Share the Road" pamphlet regarding ARS 28-815

While comparing the newer "Share the Road" pamphlets with the older, I found a couple of interesting changes. First, the addition of the "or if the lane is too narrow to share with a vehicle" phrase (which also appears in the 2007 and 2008 versions).

Relatively new addition to the pamphlet

"Practicable" in action....

The newer pamphlets suggest 5 feet of passing space when riding past parked cars...more than in this pic.

 25 miles of my Sunday ride was like this, where the duty to care, and proper lookout, are unambiguous to me.

I stopped and dismounted to allow this couple to cross the path. I felt a duty.

These pedestrians deserve some care, too

The least of these

After reading these, I've come to the conclusion that if anything beyond a simple ticket or very minor crash occurs, I'm consulting a lawyer. Preferably one familiar with bicycles, and bicycle law, and ARS 28-815 among others. 

I love life, but I don't know much about law.


  1. Even with ARS 28-815, cycling and the law is pretty ambiguous. From a driver's point of view I wonder if the lack of understanding stems from - at least partly - getting licenses as a teenager. Did they even have ARS 28-815 when you got your license? I cannot remember any specific practices learned to give right of way to cyclists. Which may be my point. It's been way too long since I've passed a written and driving exam...I can see benefits to testing every ten years. Laws change too. But, because I'm a cyclist I allow ample space and care.

    I firmly believe it's all about education. Educate drivers, cyclists, pedestrians. You can arm yourself with the written law, as you show, but that comes into play in hindsight as opposed to before an incident happens.

    I don't have a definitive solution as to how to go about this, but you get me all fired up.

    1. Back when I took driver's ed I think the only bicycle-related items were about walking a bike across a crosswalk. I rode my bike everywhere as a kid, from a fairly young age, where the main rule was watch out for cars. More education for everyone would help, and not only book learning, but also experiential muscle memory learning, and also positive role models. I am in awe of the free materials provided in Oregon, for example, with the "Pedal Power: A Legal Guide for Cyclists" appearing to be a great resource of information for that state. In reality, though, it often appears that even in bicycle paradise the vulnerable user law goes unenforced, and the stark reality is we have a long way to go.

  2. I like that book, though I used interlibrary loan to obtain a copy to read. It's the way I get most books nowadays since they don't accumulate that way.


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