Narrow Lane Court Case Outcome
Thomas asked: So, I recently inquired about a case in which I received a citation.
I just got out of court, and the case was dismissed however it seemed to me that he felt I was wrong but didn’t want to get into it. So I’d like to pick your brain a bit.
What is the legal basis of taking an entire lane instead part of it? The judge told me that I’m not allowed to take the ‘other’ 6′ by riding in the center. His basic premise is that I shouldn’t claim the entire lane. I know this to be best practice but is there a legal basis for it? It is my understanding that if you go over the line at all, you must change lanes. If that is the legal basis I’d like to have that section handy for next time.
My other issue is he didn’t seem to be willing to listen to my case and all the facts involved and wanted to only give it a cursory review. What options would I have had if I had lost this case and wanted to contest that?
Thanks for following up and advising us of the outcome in your case. For other readers, this is the original post:
Your question and the citation are about a substandard-width lane, which is one of the specific situations in which cyclists are not required to keep right. The statute does not say how much of the lane may be used. I would be interested to hear the court’s legal explanation of the amount of the lane that you are permitted to use, if not the entire lane.
It shouldn’t matter since an overtaking motorist must, by definition, at least partially change lanes to pass since the lane is not wide enough for a motor vehicle and bicycle to safely travel side by side within the lane.
If the adjacent lane is not clear, the motorist must wait, no matter where the cyclist is in the lane. This post explains that principle in detail.
Your statement about treatment in court is a common experience. Traffic courts are rushed and the magistrate or hearing officer may not be fully versed in the laws and safe practices related to bicycling.
If you go to traffic court and lose your case, it is difficult to appeal. Instead of waiting to go to court, we recommend filing a motion to dismiss with the court before the court date. That requires the court to fully consider the case and reply in writing. Since everything is in writing, that also provides the necessary documentation for an appeal if necessary. That is difficult to get from a traffic court, since there is usually no written court report of the proceeding. A motion to dismiss can be filed without a lawyer, but we recommend retaining legal advice. Separately, I will forward to you a successful motion to dismiss about this topic from another jurisdiction.
Uh, “dumb question,” but shouldn’t the person who is hearing traffic court cases be versed in ALL aspects of the traffic code and NOT just those that pertain to motor vehicles?
And as a side question that is fairly related to the original topic. Why do so many law enforcement officers when dealing with the bicycling public try and enforce laws that do NOT exist and that they have made up on the spot in order to try and “bully” a cyclist into doing what they want them to do?
I would take some exception to Geo on this. By appealing to the appellate division of the jurisdiction’s District Court there is a good chance that, giving the vagueness of the statute and lack of precedent, it would certify the question up to the applicable District Court of Appeal for a written interpretation. (The was certainly true for the moped cases of the 2000’s). This would go into the Southern Reporter (or Florida Reports), and establish precedent.
Let’s face it – 316.2065(5)(a) (the ride to the right-hand-edge unless . . . law) is hopelessly vague. It says that a cyclist must ride in the bike lane or as close to the right-hand edge stripe as practicable unless one of a number of conditions exist. But it doesn’t say what substitute rule is in place if one or more of these conditions are met, nor does it explicitly say if the general (“all-vehicles”) obstructing traffic provision in 316.2045(1) is disabled if one of the conditions are met. I have seen (older, I admit) case law from another state that interprets this same “exception clause” language to mean “if one of the exception conditions is met, then the cyclist is required to ride on the LEFT side of the road, riding against traffic,” i.e., there are only two legal lane positions for a bicyclist–far right and far left.
Whereas the statewide bicycle associations in other many other states are actually quite aggressive about litigating these types of cases in order to create precedent, and allocate funds to help cyclists with such legal battles, the FBA’s policy appears to be to discourage cyclists from taking legal action to the appellate court level, and has no legal fund to provide financial assistance to do so. I have been told that that this is because there is a fear that these opinions may prove adverse, and that ambiguity is considered preferable. Is there any truth to this?
“FBA’s policy appears to be to discourage cyclists from taking legal action to the appellate court level, and has no legal fund to provide financial assistance to do so. I have been told that that this is because there is a fear that these opinions may prove adverse, and that ambiguity is considered preferable. Is there any truth to this?”
I don’t know where that came from. I have never heard any such statement from FBA.
In fact, on this site we have recommended numerous times that cited persons with a good case use the pretrial motion to dismiss to insure there is adequate documentation in case of an unfavorable outcome. In the cases in which that approach was used, all cases that I am aware of were dismissed, hence no opportunity to go to Court of Appeal.
I am aware of one narrow lane case that did make it to the Court of Appeal many years ago and was lost, I think due to an inadequate presentation but I don’t know much about it.
Since then, the FDOT language about 14 foot lanes being the narrowest to permit most motor vehicles and bicycles to pass safely has been incorporated in all pretrial motions and the cyclist has prevailed.
I know the advocacy legal funding issue has come up, but I think it is simply a monetary consideration. How to implement? Which attorneys would be trusted to embark on such a case? My experience is that few attorneys have the knowledge or willingness to take on such a case. It could become very costly to take that route. It seems that cyclists don’t retain legal advice and usually prefer to just pay the fine, which is by far the least costly option. Principle is expensive and we don’t have much pro bono legal opportunity. The notable one was Rosensweig v. FDOT, in which Akerman Senterfit won the PBC bike lanes case. I have used that precedent to enforce proper bike facilities installation.
I any regard, I will forward this discussion to the FBA board.
I believe I know the law, I am 65 and I have biked all my life. We have a right to be on the road, we must ride with the traffic, and stay as far to the right as possible. Having said that from my experience here in Port Saint Lucie Florida. WATCH OUT! the motorists act as if you have no right to be on the road! I was even blasted by a horn for being on the road and I was as far to the right as possible, didn’t matter. I guess it boils down to you can be right and be dead in this state or be wrong, get off the road and live to ride again. I am not surprised, everyone is in a big hurry now days and rarely respect anyone else’s rights, they are too busy thinking about themselves, sad commentary on our society . . . .
FBA has unequivocally stated that a bicyclist may legally “take the (full) lane” if it is less than 14 feet wide, and the OP was cited for riding his bicycle in precisely that manner. When the facts of the case were tried in court the citation was dismissed, but the judge instructed the OP he’s: “…not allowed to take the ‘other’ 6′ by riding in the center. His basic premise is that I shouldn’t claim the entire lane.”
I have been waiting to learn what FBA is going to do now that it knows it is advising bicyclists in at least one jurisdiction to ride illegally, but more than a year later I still have not read any follow-up information.
Will FBA help defend bicyclists who follow its advice and are cited, or will it modify its interpretation of the (hopelessly ambiguous) statutory definition of substandard-width lane?