Response to Harassment: Request for Law Enforcement Assistance
Too frequently, we receive reports of bicyclists being harassed or threatened while riding as legal roadway users. Fortunately, these incidents are only due to a very small part of the population. However, they always have the potential to be deadly.
As a part of the Bicycle Law Enforcement Program, we want to propose a uniform response throughout the state. We appreciate your ideas about an effective response to these incidents to propose to law enforcement and the cycling community.
The video below was taken by Keri Caffrey, the web designer and graphics artist for this program. She knows the laws and safe cycling practices. As you watch the video, also note the number of vehicles, including other trucks, which pass without incident (normal and safe passing is demonstrated in the second half of the video).
There is also an article on the CommuteOrlando website that addresses the issue of how to report and seek justice in cases of harassment and intimidation: Fighting Back Against Roadway Terrorists.
Unfortunately, many bicyclists feel that reports of these incidents to law enforcement do not receive serious attention. My experience is that the feelings are justified.
That is not always the case. I am aware of an incident in which two cyclists reported that they were intentionally threatened twice by the aggressive language and actions of a motorist. The department, which is represented in the Officer Advisory Panel, responded and fully investigated the incident, filing charges against the motorist. I don’t know the details of the charges or the results.
That is not typical though.
Recently, there have been a number of these situations in one area, one that is always among the highest in state and national bicycle and pedestrian casualties. These have been widely reported and identify Florida as the deadliest state. These are some that have recently been reported in that area:
1. A cyclist riding in a bike lane was verbally harassed, and the driver looped back around and struck him with a thrown bottle. He called the police and an officer came out and took a report. The officer didn’t take the bottle to fingerprint it.
2. Another cyclist, also riding in a bike lane, was passed and then the motorist returned and threatened the cyclist with a handgun. The police were called and the response was that since an officer didn’t witness the incident, there was nothing they could do.
3. In a third incident, a driver went out of his way to intentionally attempt to hit a cyclist with a trailer then went around the block to make his apparently normal turn to his destination. The cyclist followed him and confronted him. The driver was indignant and said the cyclist should be on the sidewalk. The cyclist called the non-emergency number for the police department but was told there was nothing they could do since an officer didn’t witness the incident.
Cyclists have the distinct belief that these incidents are not perceived by law enforcement as worthy of a response, and with each case the perpetrators are emboldened. That is likely not the case with the prosecuted case above.
The following seem to me to be possible violations shown in the video. Keep in mind that these are presented by a cyclist who has been on the receiving end of similar situations. We need a law enforcement view of these situations and your opinion of actual violations that are in evidence in the video and the other cases above, and how we can incorporate them in the program.
s. 316.083 – Overtaking and Passing a Vehicle
(1) The driver of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle … shall pass to the left thereof at a safe distance, and shall not again drive to the right side of the roadway until safely clear of the overtaken vehicle. The driver of a vehicle overtaking a bicycle or other nonmotorized vehicle must pass the bicycle or other nonmotorized vehicle at a safe distance of not less than 3 feet between the vehicle and the bicycle or other nonmotorized vehicle.
s. 316.085 – Limitations on Overtaking, Passing, Changing Lanes and Changing Course
(2) No vehicle shall be driven from a direct course in any lane on any highway until the driver has determined that …. the move can be completely made with safety and without interfering with the safe operation of any vehicle approaching from the same direction.
s. 316.089 – Driving on Roadways Laned for Traffic
(1) A vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from such lane until the driver has first ascertained that such movement can be made with safety.
(3) Official traffic control devices (Bicycle Lanes) may be erected directing specified traffic to use a designated lane …. drivers of vehicles shall obey the directions of every such device.
(4) Official traffic control devices may be installed prohibiting the changing of lanes on sections of roadway, and drivers of vehicles shall obey the directions of every such device.
s. 316.130 – Pedestrian
(15) …. every driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any …. person propelling a human-powered vehicle ….
s. 316.185 – Special Hazards
…. speed shall be decreased as may be necessary to avoid colliding with any person, vehicle, or other conveyance …. and the duty of all persons to use due care.
s. 316.074 – Obedience to and Required Traffic Control Devices
(1) The driver of any vehicle shall obey the instructions of any official traffic control device ….
s. 316.155 – When Signal Required
(1) No person may turn a vehicle from a direct course or move right or left upon a highway unless and until such movement can be made with reasonable safety, and then only after giving an appropriate signal in the manner hereinafter provided, in the event any other vehicle may be affected by the movement.
s. 316.192 – Reckless Driving
(1)(a) Any person who drives any vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.
s. 316.1923 – Aggressive Careless Driving
“Aggressive careless driving” means committing two or more of the following acts simultaneously or in succession:
(2) Unsafely or improperly changing lanes as defined in s. 316.085.
(3) Following another vehicle too closely as defined in s. 316.0895(1).
s. 316.1925 – Careless Driving
(1) Any person operating a vehicle upon the streets or highways within the state shall drive the same in a careful and prudent manner, …. so as not to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person.
s. 316.271 – Horns and Warning Devices
(3) The driver of a motor vehicle shall, when reasonably necessary to ensure safe operation, give audible warning with his or her horn, but shall not otherwise use such horn when upon a highway.
s. 784.05 – Culpable Negligence
(1) Whoever, through culpable negligence, exposes another person to personal injury commits a misdemeanor of the second degree
s. 784.011 – Assault
(1) An “assault” is an intentional, unlawful threat by word or act to do violence to the person of another, coupled with an apparent ability to do so, and doing some act which creates a well-founded fear in such other person that such violence is imminent.
There may be others, and you may know reasons the above are not viable options.
Some states have laws about vulnerable users, menacing and harassment. Florida does not.
Most cyclists use the roadways without adverse consequences, and when riding legally and in accordance with safe cycling practices, are very safe. Most motorists are respectful of the rights of others and operate safely and cooperate to insure the best use of the roads for all. The violations above do occur, and they are committed by a small part of the population. Those who do intentionally endanger others are few, and most likely repeat their actions numerous times. They are a threat to civilized roadway use.
We would also appreciate the involvement of your law enforcement legal advisors to devise an effective and uniform approach that we can propose to the law enforcement community and cyclists statewide.
We also need to know what cyclists, either individually or as a group, through FBA or the clubs for example, can do to assist law enforcement.
Your assistance is very much appreciated.