Two Citations-Identical Circumstances-Opposite Verdicts

Recently, a cyclist was cited for violation of the “keep right” provisions of s. 316.2065-Bicycle Regulations.  It was upheld in traffic court.

It was similar to another citation about a year ago in another jurisdiction.  Both cases were nearly identical in the circumstances and the evidence presented by the bicyclists to the court.

The cases are notable because one cyclist was found guilty and the other the case was dismissed.  There were some differences in the situations.

Both cyclists were advised to write to the department, retain counsel, and file a motion to dismiss before the court date.  The cyclist who was found guilty chose to proceed without counsel.

The other retained counsel and filed a motion to dismiss, which was decided in his favor before the court date.

I believe that the time and proper setting of a pre-trial motion will enable full exploration of the circumstances, facilitating a better decision.   The environment in traffic court is not conducive to thorough examination of the laws and circumstances of a case.

In the upheld case, there was an allegation of rude and disrespectful conduct on the part of the cyclist. Although the cyclist denies such behavior, my uninformed opinion is that those allegations affected both the decision to award the citation and the court case. We should know that is not a positive way to impress an officer or the court, and should never be a part of our roadway interactions.

There were some minor differences in the circumstances.  One was a multi-lane roadway and the other was a roadway with one lane in each direction, which should have no bearing.  Both lanes were less than 12 feet wide.   Both met the substandard-width lane, unsafe condition exception to the “keep right” provisions of FS 316.2065 (5)(a)3.

Some of the statements allegedly made by officers in both cases stress the need for education about the laws.  The statements were reported by the cyclists and I have no way of verifying some of them. My guess is that they were accurate since I have heard other such reports that I know to be true.

In both cases, the officer indicated that the cyclist could not impede traffic.  The statute that generally addresses impeding traffic applies only to motor vehicles.  (In each of these cases, the cyclist was riding alone.  There is another statute that discusses impeding traffic while riding two abreast.  Please see the July 13, 2009 post in the archives.)

s. 316.183 – Unlawful Speed

(5) No person shall drive a motor vehicle at such a slow speed as to impede or block the normal and reasonable movement of traffic

In the case in which the cyclist was found guilty, the officer indicated in court that there was a sidewalk that the cyclist could have been using, indicating ignorance of the rights of cyclists as operators of vehicles and the additional hazards of cyclists riding on sidewalks.

The cyclist read the substandard-width provision in the statutes, and a quote from the Department of Transportation about a wide curb lane being a minimum of 14 feet wide with narrower lanes being not wide enough for a motor vehicle to safely pass a bicycle within the same lane.

The officer stated that virtually all lanes in that city are less than 14 feet wide and cyclists would be able to ride in the center of the lane everywhere, which seems to imply that since that community has narrow roadways, Florida law does not apply.

About 90% (My estimate) of Florida roadways have lanes that are less than 14 feet wide.  I believe that was the intent of the “unsafe conditions” language in the Bicycle Regulations that allows a cyclist to leave the right side of the roadway and become more visible, thereby encouraging safe and legal overtaking and passing by motorists.

The statutes reflect and should encourage safe cycling practices.  In both cases, there is a lack of understanding of the principles of safe cycling, and that riding far right in a narrow lane encourages motorists to illegally and dangerously attempt to pass within the lane with oncoming traffic or conflicting traffic in the adjacent lane.

It is troubling that such similar cases could be decided so differently.  That does not bode well for education and enforcement of the laws about bicycling.

This is the second such case in that community that has resulted in a guilty verdict.  In neither case did the judge state how narrow a lane must be to be substandard-width, and therefore entitled to treatment as an unsafe condition under that provision of FS 316.2065, nor recognize cyclists’ discretion to do as the statutes say, avoid unsafe conditions.

Florida is among those states with the very highest casualties and some communities, including that with the upheld citations, have been repeatedly identified as those with “Mean Streets” in 2004 and more recently, “Dangerous By Design”.  We know from studying crash reports that a significant numbers of crashes result from cyclists riding too far right when they are not required to do so by law.  Cyclists need law enforcement and the courts to support their legal right to protect themselves from common crashes.

If the image of Florida as having the most dangerous communities in the U.S. is to change, we must begin by concern for safety over traffic flow.

The uniform understanding and application of the laws about bicycling in Florida will come from implementation of FBA’s Bicycle Law Enforcement Program.

Posted in Ask Geo, Misc Tagged with: ,
19 comments on “Two Citations-Identical Circumstances-Opposite Verdicts
  1. Treksarkana says:

    Question: How do you come to the conclusion that “The statute about impeding traffic applies only to motor vehicles.”?

    Specifically, in regards to:

    … “Persons riding two abreast may not impede traffic when traveling at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing and shall ride within a single lane. ” 316.2065 (6)

  2. Geo says:

    Good point. You are correct about another statute that discusses cyclists impeding traffic while riding abreast. Please see the July 13, 2009 post in the archives. In each of these cases, the cyclist was riding alone. I will clarify that in the post.

    Some states do not have the same wording about impeding traffic, and use “vehicle”, rather than “motor vehicle” as Florida does.

  3. Frank says:

    What was the “fine” imposed for the upheld case?
    Also, I don’t understand how a judge could say that the rider was impeding traffic flow, if the statutes say (legally) he didn’t?
    Just because that town doesn’t have bicycle lanes, nor has expanded their roads to the 14′ minimum required by Florida law, should the cyclist be penalized?

  4. Geo says:

    I don’t know the fine, but cases like this can be in the $110-120 range when the court costs are included.
    I haven’t seen the actual citation, but my understanding is that the violation stated was not impeding traffic, but was failure to keep right in accordance with FS 316.2065 – Bicycle Regulations. I don’t understand that either, and that is the purpose of the post.
    The statute requiring bicycle facilities does not specify bike lanes or wide curb lanes. It says “bicycle ways”. The standards for repaving and new construction are FDOT standards in the Plans Preparation Manual and the Florida Greenbook.

  5. Frank says:

    I was asking because the one who lost didn’t have to pay for a lawyer.
    The $100 or even a $300 fine would be much less than a lawyer.

    • Keri says:

      If a person using a bike for transportation is wrongly cited for riding legally and loses in court, it could cost way more than the fine. If local law enforcement is then emboldened to ticket him each time they see him riding in the lane, he essentially loses his right to travel safely on the public roadway.

      • Frank says:

        I don’t see why a Judge could say, forget the law and just make up something..
        I would think that the cyclist who lost, probably lives in a town where there IS a law concerning traffic flow within THAT municipality.
        If I where that guy, I would either try to appeal that decission or go to the mayor of that town and have him look into it.
        A judge STILL has to obey the laws…
        If the officer’s answer to me was that there WAS a sidewalk avail to the cyclist, I would have to explain that there are other lanes for the other vehicles to use as well. Also, as long as the cyclist stayed as far right as PRACTICAL, then no law was broken.
        The term in the statute is practical, NOT possible.
        The guy who lost probably was also rude to the judge, which NEVER works out well.

  6. Geo says:

    If the only concern is the cost of to a single cyclist for a single incident, you are right. We believe it is preferable to try to seek uniform and consistent enforcement so cyclists will know that the laws in one part of Florida will be treated the same as in another. Without that, cyclists cannot be properly educated and able to comply with the laws. Officers will not know what they should be enforcing. Sometimes it requires some sacrifice on the part of those who want to support that goal. If everyone accepts the present status and doesn’t make the effort, nothing will change.

  7. Stephen says:

    These issues don’t seem to be unique to Florida. A local bicyclist was cited in Delaware in 2008 for failure to keep right, and tried to use the narrow lane exception in the law (JP court with no record, no counsel). The judge had the same reply – since virtually all the roads in Delaware have lanes of 12′ or less, the law could not possibly mean bicyclists can ride in the middle of any lane and upheld the citation (and increased the fine). I gather on appeal to a court of record, the charge was simply dropped due to the clear statement in the law.

    As Keri notes, even had the bicyclist had to pay counsel to actually go to court for the appeal, he would have considered it worth the expense to have documentation for other traffic stops (I gather they are not uncommon on some roads). A lawyer may be more expensive than a single ticket, but cheaper than a car or hospital bills.

    It’s still not obvious to me how to avoid being argumentative in some cases. At DOT presentations of road plans, many planners rejected statements that bicyclists are not restricted to door zone bike lanes when making left turns, and my naive belief that oncoming motorists turning left are legally required to yield to bicyclists going straight. The planners also refused to read the state traffic code. At least they can’t cite bicyclists directly.

  8. Frank says:

    Oh, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been cut off by motorists and they get mad at Me!
    I’m going straight and they’re turning and MOST of the time, they’re not even using their blinkers!

  9. Keri says:

    Frank

    “The term in the statute is practical, NOT possible.”

    The term is practicable, not practical.

    “I don’t see why a Judge could say, forget the law and just make up something..
    I would think that the cyclist who lost, probably lives in a town where there IS a law concerning traffic flow within THAT municipality.”

    You have made incorrect assumptions on cases you know nothing about based solely on the way you believe the system works. None of us would predict that judges would make up the law according to his own (or the culture’s) bias, but they do. They do it with absolutely no basis in law. Studying these cases certainly challenged my beliefs that the legal system was impartial and could be counted on to at least support statutory rights.

    What’s interesting and instructive is that what you’ve done in your comment is quite similar to what judges do when they make up their own flawed interpretations of the law. Cognitive dissonance causes people to make up conditions to support their beliefs with no personal knowledge, supporting evidence or basis in fact.

    The judges in question probably don’t ride bikes in traffic, so they have little-no understanding of how a cyclist controls his safety, or his fundamental right to do so. Therefore, they don’t look at the law and see where it gives him the right to full-lane use on most roads (via the exceptions to 316.2065(5)). Instead they look at it through a windshield view of the road — our culture’s bias/belief that roads are for cars. That’s how they believe the system works. From that mindset, the law couldn’t possible allow cyclists to “get in the way” on most of our roads, therefore they interpret the law incorrectly, discarding the parts that are inconvenient to their belief system. Sometimes, like in the Delaware case mentioned below by Stephen, the judge even assigns intent to the legislature — they could not have possibly intended to allow cyclists to control a 12ft lane because most of the lanes are 12ft.

    The cognitive dissonance is caused by attachment to a cultural belief system — cars are intended users, bicycles are toys that must be kept out of the way — which is supported by entrenched mythologies of danger and delay.

    The misinterpretation is facilitated by how horribly the statute is written. This itself is a product of a culture that does not respect cyclists as drivers of vehicles with an equal right to the public roads.

    This is a tough nut to crack, even in the seemingly-impartial environs of the justice system.

    • Jayeson says:

      So what does practicable mean in the context of traffic law? Capable of being done by the vehicle operator? That sounds more restrictive to me that practical.

  10. Mark B says:

    Jayeson, it is a bit of ‘word-chopping’, but practical is a more subjective term, open to more interpretation — something the law tries to avoid when it can be used against them. The more precise ‘practicable’ means ‘able to be done reasonably and safely’. Now, POSSIBLE is a whole other thing!

    It’s POSSIBLE to ride your bike so close to the curb that the right pedal hovers over the curb itself; but it’s not practical OR practicable, because you can easily be launched sideways into traffic by curb contact. Practicable would be more like 2′ off the curb, out to the left edge of the right tire track. Practical would be all the way to the center of the lane!

    Just clarifying for ya….

  11. Geo says:

    Since this site is intended to discuss the statutes, we need to be able to define the word “practicable” in legal terms. It is not defined in the statutes, so we need to seek other information. Mark has used the phrase “reasonably and safely”, which is supported by that use in the national law enforcement training program about bicycling created by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Their actual wording is “Practicable does not mean possible, it means safe and reasonable.” If anyone has another source of that definition, please let us know.

    Another source of information, lacking a statutory definition, is common usage. Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary defies practicable as “Capable of being done, effected, or put into practice, with the available means; feasible.” They give synonyms of “workable, achievable, attainable”. They define “feasible” as “suitable: a road suitable for travel”.

    An internet search on the word “practicable” gives us a number of other similar possibilities.

    I would hope the legalities of such a definition would be considered in the context of bicyclists attempting to travel safely, and that the ones most at risk would be the ones who are making the determination of what is suitable under the given conditions. If we can demonstrate that our actions are based in the need for safety, that should suffice.

    The Bicycle Regulations, FS 316.2065(5) recognize that in their use of the phrase “under the conditions then existing shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway”.

  12. Herman F. Ebeling, Jr. says:

    A couple of years ago when I was coming home from the First Friday concert in Downtown St. Pete I was stopped by an off duty Traffic Homicide officer. He get’s out of his Traffic Homicide SUV, while still on the driver’s side and up by the engine compartment he quickly flashes his badge.

    I was wearing a kit at the time, and the first words out of his mouth were “You and your clubs need to learn. . .” with him trailing off. Then he changes tactics and says how he is tired of cleaning us up off of the streets.

    When I informed him that we cyclists have the right to take the lane he says that we didn’t and threatened to seize my bike right there on the spot. He had also mentioned another St. Pete rider by name and the number of moving violations that they have received within the last x number of years.

    The whole time we are interacting I stayed astride my bike not fully dismounting it. He “instructed” me to ride closer to the gutter pan/curb then I had been. I’m pretty sure that I don’t need to say that after he had left and I left that the traffic was now passing me too closely.

    Fortunately I was maybe a half mile to a mile from where I would be making a left turn and taking more residential roads to finish getting home.

    I also had to laugh because as soon as I made my right turn shortly after making my left I encountered a ninja i.e. someone riding without lights, reflectors and wearing dark clothes. Someone that that off duty officer should have been looking for.

    Question, give that he was off duty at the time of the stop would he have been able to seize my bike?

    • Frank says:

      Anyone can do anything they want at any time..
      Doesn’t make it legal, moral, or ethically sound.

      I realized the “practical” mistake after I read my post.
      I, personally, don’t think it’s practical to ride in the center of the lane either.
      Just a bit more to the left than what any reasonable person would consider the normal position in a lane.
      I think I read on here, someone saying that it’s better to be a little more to the left of the lane to let the vehicles behind me know that it would be better to pass by moving more towards the left (including going over the lane divider to their left) than to try to do somethin more dangerous (and illegal) like squeeze in between the lane divider and the cyclist.

      In regards to the statement about saying the cyclist could have used the available sidewalk…
      I’ll tell you how much more dangerous it can be on the sidewalk, than being on the road, when you have parking lot exits, driveways, cars coming from the opposite side of the road turning left, pedestrians, etc, etc, etc.

    • Geo says:

      No, unless there other extenuating circumstances. FS 316.2065 says, ” …. a violation of this section is a noncriminal traffic infraction, punishable as a pedestrian violation as provided in chapter 318.” It is no different from a motorist who is stopped for a minor traffic violation, except that a bicyclist cited and convicted for any routine traffic violation cannot be awarded points on the driver’s license.

      When these things happen, we recommend getting the necessary information and writing a letter to the law enforcement agency and other government officials having jurisdiction. Cyclists must be empowered to act in their own interests. Too often, we just go home and complain amongst ourselves. That accomplishes nothing.

      • Herman F. Ebeling, Jr. says:

        When I got home I sent an e-mail to the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Coordinator for St. Pete. She gave me his name, which right now I don’t remember. And let me know that he had had numerous complaints in his jacket. Hmm, gee, I wonder why that might be???

        The “irony” is that before and since that stop I’ve passed St. Pete’s finest traveling in both directions relative to my direction of travel, riding in exactly the same fashion and NOT ONE of them has ever stopped me to correct me.

        I can’t remember if it was before or after this incident that while I was riding on 9th St. N. in St. Pete by 54th Ave. N. I had someone throw an egg at me. I called 911 to report it. While talking with the officer who responded I told her exactly where I am in the habit of riding i.e. the right side tire track. And she obviously had no problems with that as she did not correct me.

        Ironically I had the opportunity to talk to her again recently and she remembered me from the egg incident. And I again repeated to her where I usually ride and again she didn’t indicate having any problems with where I ride.

        I think that he had some sort of problem with cyclists in general. And knock on wood that is/was the first and last time that I have encountered him out on the street.

  13. Keithmj says:

    Herman, I know the area well as I rode the same area going to and from work and I used the same place in the lane as you do but maybe just a little bit more to the left. I have never had any problems yet.
    But I know a lady who rides that street five day a week and she has been stopped several times and have fought and won, she still rides in the same spot everyday. Good for her.
    The thing I have noted is that the police love to stop those that are trying to do what is right and I have even contact them to do something about bikes without lights at night which does no good.

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