Response to Officer’s Orders

Question

Dan also asked:  What should a knowledgeable cyclist do in the case of being told by law enforcement to do something which is not required (ride on the sidewalk), and finally threaten “I’ll write you a citation, get off the road now”?

Answer

There is no one size fits all.  Every situation is different.  Rather than try to give a specific answer, let’s discuss a number of examples.  You can decide which, if any, best meets your needs in a particular situation.

At this site, we do not give legal advice.  Rather, we try to present and elaborate on the actual wording of the statutes and give our best interpretation.  Please seek legal advice for  situations that affect you.

First some things to always do.

Whether you have problems or not, your club or local cyclists should try to become involved in advocacy.  Most communities have government entities that are working to help make your roadways better for all.  A Bike/Ped Advisory Committee is an example.  Get involved.

Develop a relationship between the cycling community and law enforcement in your area.  A continuing cooperative effort presents opportunities to discuss and resolve problems, sometimes even before they arise.  A little communication can go a long way.  See Lake County Bicycle Summit and Ride Right/Drive Right Campaign.

If you are not a member, join the FBA.  They are working hard to help you help yourselves.  “I just want to ride my bike” may result in your not being able to ride your bike.

Ask your club to donate $5,000 to help us complete the Bicycle Law Enforcement Program.  Individual contributions welcome also.  More is better.  Less will help.

Here are some things no one should do.

  • Never use foul language or be disrespectful, rude or impolite.  The situation can only escalate.
  • Don’t enter into a conversation with the intent to show how much smarter you are or how much more you know about the laws.  Having the information does not mean it will necessarily benefit you if it is not presented properly.  Attitude may not be rewarded the way you want.

Instead, if it seems the officer is simply not aware of the laws and is possibly concerned about your safety, and is amenable to a discussion, you may want to ask if you can talk about the situation.   Give the officer every opportunity to retain control.

Having a Bicycle Law Enforcement Guide, which is published by the FBA, and being fully informed of the contents, may be helpful.  That allows a point of reference, rather than just your statements.  It also allows you to give the officer the copy.

When you renew your license tag, get a Share the Road tag.  Part of the proceeds go to FBA.

  • When an officer says, “Stop”, do not fail to stop when it is safe to do so.  Anything other than that might be interpreted as a more serious offense that just a traffic violation.  An example:

FS 316.1935 – Fleeing or Attempting to Elude a Law Enforcement Officer; Aggravated Fleeing or Eluding

(1) It is unlawful for the operator of a vehicle, having knowledge that he or she has been ordered to stop such a vehicle by a duly authorized law enforcement officer, willfully to refuse or fail to stop the vehicle in compliance with such order, willfully attempt to elude the officer, and the person who violates this subsection commits a felony of the third degree ….

Punishment for a third degree felony can be a term of imprisonment not exceeding five years and a fine not to exceed $5,000.

Of course it can get worse if someone is injured in the course of the eluding or fleeing, or resists arrest if it comes to that.

What about the case when an officer does not say, “Stop” or give another clearly lawful  order, but rather simply says “Get on the sidewalk” or “Move to the far right of the lane”.

These are not lawful orders if the statutes do not require those actions.

The following are some examples of possible reactions based on real situations.

1.  Two cyclists (Not in Florida), being ordered off the roadway and onto the shoulder, refused repeatedly.  Things got out of hand and they were Tazered and arrested.  The case was dismissed since the officer had apparently not said, “Stop”, but had just repeated the unlawful order to get off the roadway.  It still hurts, I would imagine.  Lawyers, money, etc.

2.  Another cyclist was arrested twice for riding in the roadway.  That state has laws similar to Florida, and gives cyclists the same rights and duties as other vehicle drivers.  A court date is pending.

This cyclist also noted that he had a number of encounters with other officers in which they had a very polite and professional discussion about the circumstances, and there was no action.

3.  A person was ordered to ride far to the right in what was clearly a substandard-width lane.   The officer stopped and the two had an amiable conversation.  The person is one of the state’s most knowledgeable in the laws about bicycling and is in a government position related to bicycling.  They were very polite and professional and discussed the situation.  They parted friends and the officer thanked him for the information.

4.  A person, after being stopped and warned numerous times not to ride in the middle of a substandard-width lane, was cited twice for failure to keep right.  He wrote a letter to the court and both charges were dismissed before going to court.

5.  A cyclist, preparing to make a left turn and controlling the lane for about 1300 feet, received a citation for not keeping right.  FS 316.151 is very clear that a cyclist can use the full lane, but does not state a distance.  Apparently the cyclist explained in court that he needed to move to the left lane when traffic permitted, and that was the safest action under the circumstances.  The citation was dismissed.

6.  Another person was told by an officer to keep right and flagged the officer down by waving.  The officer apparently thought the cyclist had given that not-so-friendly wave, and stopped.  Needless to say, the conversation didn’t go well, and the cyclist got a citation.  It will soon be resolved in court.

Don’t be confident that just because you know all the laws and follow them, a citation will not be upheld in the courts.  I have heard of valid citations being dismissed because “It’s just a bicycle” and poor citations being upheld because “The Department of Transportation wouldn’t install substandard roadways”.  You just never know.

Lesson to cyclists:  As you can see, all situations are different.  You must decide the best course of action based on your own disposition, your ideals and knowledge of the laws, the officer’s approach, and what you decide is the best outcome under this set of circumstances.

Lesson to officers:  Give orders that are  enforceable and supported by the statutes.  Of course, that means a full knowledge of the laws about cycling.

Posted in Ask Geo, Misc Tagged with:
5 comments on “Response to Officer’s Orders
  1. Donald Hayward says:

    Awesome, but the “Bicycle Law Enforcement Guide” link is dead. Any chance you could fix the link so it can be downloaded? I think it should be here: http://floridabicycle.org/resources/pdfs/PEGLEG2008_7-31-08web.pdf

  2. Geo says:

    Thanks Donald. It seems to be ok now.

  3. Eli Damon says:

    Hi George. From my confrontations with police officers in Massachusetts, I would add a few points to this.

    1. If the officer lets you go, do not ride away from the officer if you can help it. This will give the officer another opportunity to scrutinize you and find fault with your technique. Let the officer leave first. You might have to walk to someplace that is a comfortable distance away but where you can still see the officer and wait awhile.

    2. In both of the encounters in West Springfield that I describe in my writing, the officers attempted to manipulate me into committing to a future action. Making such a commitment would have involved either relinquishing my legal rights, inviting arrest, or lying, none of which I was willing to do (although in the last encounter I was arrested anyway). I am not willing to make such a commitment in future encounters either. Depending on your priorities you might or might not want make such a commitment. However, a police officer cannot legally force you to make it and cannot legally hold you to it if you do make it.

    My writing on my recent problems with police officers in Hadley and West Springfield Massachusetts can be found in my Facebook note “my legal troubles” or at (click on “The Eli Damon Saga.txt”). Keri Caffrey mentions both the above article and my story, in addition to other, similar stories in her article “The Enforcement of Imaginary Laws” ().

  4. danc says:

    Dear Geo,

    Thanks for the reply, I appreciate the thoughtful reply, perspectives and understand the scope of this blog. Commute Orlando more directly address the question and compliments this blog reply.

    In quoting the question the word “SAFE” was dropped, below is the whole question: “What should a knowledgeable cyclist do in the case of being told by law enforcement to do something which is not required [ride on the sidewalk], SAFE and finally threaten “[I’ll] write you a citation, get off the road now.”

    Judging what is SAFE is a difficult question and I think this where “Enforcement of Imaginary Laws” also useful. Thanks again!

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