Open Letter to Our State Legislators: We Need a Strong Bike Harassment Law

The driver of this SUV blasted the horn and told me to ride on the sidewalk. Image is a screen capture from a Fly6 tail-mounted video camera.
The driver of this SUV blasted the horn and told me to ride on the sidewalk. Image is a screen capture from a Fly6 tail-mounted video camera.

While I was riding my bike to an Oakland Department of Transportation press event a couple of weeks ago, a driver in a black SUV came up behind and tailgated me. There were two lanes, and ample room to change lanes to pass–there was also a red light ahead of me and I was keeping up with the flow of traffic–I caught up with her at the next light and the next after that.

Despite all this, the driver blew the horn, passed dangerously close, and told me to ride on the sidewalk.

The only thing that makes this noteworthy is that it is barely noteworthy. It has happened to me before, several times, although it’s the first time I’ve recorded such an overt act on video, on my Fly6 bike camera. The lead image is a still from that video.

Anybody who rides regularly has had a similar experience. It’s also something that we see reported on social media with alarming frequency.

Remember Mary Ann Blackwell, who was punched in the face for demanding a motorist not park in the bike lane? She posted on Facebook about a different, recent incident on Adeline Street in Oakland where a driver first followed dangerously close, then passed within three feet (even though there was an open lane next to her) and shouted “I could run your ass over!” Blackwell, who spoke with Streetsblog about the incident, doesn’t have a video camera on her bike, but she caught up with the motorist down the street and took a picture of his van with her cell phone.

Note to "Justin" and other angry motorists--it's probably not a good idea to threaten cyclists in a vehicle that has the name and phone number of your business on it. Photo: Mary Ann Blackwell
Note to “Justin” and other angry motorists–it’s probably not a good idea to threaten cyclists in a vehicle that has the name and phone number of your business on it. Photo: Mary Ann Blackwell

And who can forget this driver on Valencia, a bike corridor, who passed recklessly and then stopped and got out of his car to threaten a cyclist.

This man was captured on video threatening a cyclist. We need legislation so evidence like this can be used to suspend his license. Photo: SF Bikealot
This man was captured on video threatening a cyclist. We need legislation so evidence like this can be used to suspend his license. Photo: SF Bikealot

There are four cities in California with anti bike-harassment laws–Los AngelesBerkeleyOakland and Sunnyvale. Unfortunately, these only enable cyclists to sue for money. And we have the hard-fought but flexible three foot-passing law.

These laws may help, but they don’t get at the crux of the problem: someone who goes around blasting cyclists off the road shouldn’t be driving in the first place.

Three weekends ago in Marin, four cyclists were injured–one critically–by a man driving a pickup truck. There’s a through-line from that incident to the day-to-day harassment that cyclists experience. Does anyone imagine the Marin motorist previously passed carefully, didn’t harass cyclists, and always gave at least three feet? Of course not–remember the case of Doctor Thompson, a Los Angeles motorist who was convicted of assaulting cyclists with his car? He had a history of harassing cyclists. A Mother-Teresa-of-a-motorist doesn’t wake up one day and decide to go run down some bikers.

Past attempts at legislation to protect vulnerable road users from aggressive and malevolent motorists haven’t gotten past the governor’s desk. But with the growing prevalence of bike-mounted video cameras that can capture direct evidence of a malevolent person using a car to terrorize cyclists, it’s time to try again.

Last week, a criminal suspect used an SUV to severely injure San Francisco Police Officer Elia Lewin-Tankel. In honor of Lewin-Tankel, and the cyclists injured in Marin, I call on Phil Ting, Marc Levine, Scott Wiener and David Chiu, or other state lawmakers who have shown comity with vulnerable road users, to work on legislation: if someone is caught on video harassing or threatening a cyclist with a motor vehicle, they should lose the privilege of a driver’s license. It should be clear that police don’t have to witness the act directly–video footage is good enough.

It should be part of the California Motor Vehicle Code that anyone who is so deranged and full of bile that they think it is appropriate to use a two- to five-ton vehicle to terrorize and harass people will not be permitted to drive.

A frame from the passing motorcyclist's video of the truck that ran into four cyclists in Marin. Does anyone thing this motorist previously passed carefully, didn't harass, and always gave at least three feet? Image from CHP.
A frame from the passing motorcyclist’s video of the truck that ran into four cyclists in Marin. Does anyone think this motorist previously passed carefully, didn’t harass anyone, and always gave at least three feet? Image from CHP.

Note: GJEL Accident Attorneys regularly sponsors coverage on Streetsblog San Francisco and Streetsblog California. Unless noted in the story, GJEL Accident Attorneys is not consulted for the content or editorial direction of the sponsored content.

  • John French

    “Note to ‘Justin’ and other angry motorists–it’s probably not a good idea to threaten cyclists in a vehicle that has the name and phone number of your business on it.”

    Really? Unfortunately I think the worst “Justin” should expect is a bit of harassment from Streetsblog readers. When was the last time a cell phone photo and testimony from a cyclist got any kind of response from law enforcement – absent a death or police witnessing the event in person?

  • Jeffrey Baker

    What block was this on?

  • MDV

    Great idea! It’s always very frustrating that nothing can be done in these cases, even when there is clear video evidence. License suspension seems like an appropriate, punishment as well. I will forward this post to my state legislators!

  • My friend was riding with his two year old and got buzzed…with a police car behind him:

    https://troytemplin.com/2017/10/19/burbank-police-watch-as-a-driver-nearly-kills-my-two-year-old-and-me/

  • xplosneer

    I asked Hayward police and city management to have a discussion about how to deal with these situations of blatant abuse. I was as respectful of their time as possible in my email.

    No response. No acknowledgement at all.

  • Dave Campbell

    What’s needed is a statewide roadway safety promotional campaign, of the magnitude of MADD and anti-smoking

  • Cynara2

    Okay, but it is the cyclists that need safety lessons.

  • Corvus Corax

    Oh, look – it’s RichLL back as Cynara2. He recently got banned from Streetsblog under his Harris sockpuppet identity and all his Harris comments have been removed. But he just cannot stay away. Here’s hoping his Cynara2 sockpuppet gets banned soon!

  • Pietro Gambadilegno
  • Cyclist’s Rights

    In every single one of these cases the. Cyclist was riding one hundred percent legally.
    Perhaps it’s the bigots like you who need to learn!
    Event of a cyclist is doing something wrong, this should not be the punishment.

  • Cyclist’s Rights
  • Cyclist’s Rights
  • xplosneer
  • John Murphy

    I actually think Cynara2 is a different user but nonetheless one that should be blocked. Trolls need oxygen.

  • John Murphy

    When the cyclist hit is a bike cop….

  • Christopher Kidd

    The cities of Oakland and Sunnyvale have anti-harassment ordinances for vulnerable road users (also including peds and mobility devices)

  • Prinzrob

    Also beefed up driver training and testing standards from the CA DMV, and mandatory instruction on driving around bikes and pedestrians for large vehicle drivers, teen learners and other beginners.

  • Prinzrob

    Here’s the text of the Oakland ordinance, minimum $1k civil suit award for any violation: https://oakland.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=3054837&GUID=204495B6-BAEF-4B5E-A63B-E76F0056483C

  • A A

    3 riders were injured in 2 separate hit and run collisions by the same driver on Diablo Rd in Danville Saturday 10/21: http://www.nixle.us/9NFLF

  • Jeffrey Baker
  • D G Spencer Ludgate

    Three things need to be done.

    1) Cyclists should be granted full lane rights. Repeal CVC 21202 and 21208.
    2) Change the 3-foot passing law to a “Change Lanes to Pass” law with allowances to cross a double-yellow. (Model it after Nevada’s law.)
    3) Video evidence should be admissible for cyclists to press Assault charges against motorists. (District Attorneys can offer 1-year suspended driver’s license as a plea bargain.)

  • A A

    Thanks for the update.

  • Guy Ross

    Again, the only thing which will change this culture is by getting police forces out onto bikes as a major part of their patrolling regiment. Laws, issue campaigns, etc. are toothless if those tasked with protecting us are only ever sitting behind either a desk or a windshield.

  • Pietro Gambadilegno

    Roger Rudick says this incident happened in Oakland and he has video evidence. He should sue. It would make for some interesting articles.

  • RobertSeattle

    Hey motorists, what is the f’ing hurry anyway?

  • GregKamin

    Do you know if any State has a law that does not require slower-moving traffic to keep right (which is basically what 21202 says)?

    I am not familiar with the Nevada law you are referring to, but there is an evident problem with any law that allows passing in the face of oncoming traffic. Not sure that allowing passing vehicles to do that, with the risk that they suddenly swerve back to the right, would make a cyclist safer. Double yellow lines are usually present when visibility is reduced e.g. near bends.

    Video evidence is admissible now, if the recording was by a third party. So for instance in the Le Moullac case, video evidence from a store CCTV was used.

    The legal problem is more when one of the parties to a dispute introduces their own evidence. First there is the risk of “bias by omission” – if it is my tape then I present it if it helps my case but destroy it if it helps your case. Second, and worse, it is not difficult these days to tamper with video and audio files with a low risk it will be detected.

  • Rogue Cyclist

    On Harrison, near 19th.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Ah yes, now I recognize the facade of 1800 Harrison. That’s a crazy place for drivers to get impatient, though, because they are all headed into a massive cock-up of a traffic jam, every single day.

  • farazs

    I don’t know how one tampers a video file that does not show assault to one that does. One can remove provocation or retaliation, but not add an actual assault where there was none. That’s just stupid!

  • Autolycus

    If 21202 were repealed, 21654 (slow vehicles keep right) would still apply. This was the case before the code was rewritten to distinguish between bicycles and vehicles. Some people (e.g. John Forester) prefer the old laws.

  • Rogue Cyclist

    I continue to be amazed how forgetful some people are.

  • Roger R.

    Thanks and sorry about the error. I updated.

  • GregKamin

    Well, I could remove the parts of a video file that show me behaving badly, and leave the part showing you behaving badly.

    It would be hard to show something that didn’t happen but it would be easy to suppress something that did.

  • farazs

    Firstly, kudos for degrading potentially felonious actions to ‘bad behavior’. Almost didn’t catch that sleight of hand!

    Any evidence you show of me ‘behaving badly’ (sic) should be enough to convict me of bad behavior. For example, if you throw a rock at me. I pick up the rock and throw it back at you, then my actions are enough to convict. The fact that you threw the rock first is not mitigation for my actions – the proper response is always to report to the authorities, not vigilantism. Defensive actions are very distinct and obvious from aggressive ones – it is impossible to manipulate a defensive action to show aggression.

    Any way, if I am so worried about being wrongfully accused then I should get my own camera. This conservative notion of disallowing obvious evidence is wrong and only emboldens the criminal.

  • GregKamin

    The objections to using video evidence other than from neutral third parties is not predicated upon any “conservative” notions, but rather upon the idea that our legal system should not allow self-serving manipulation of evidence

  • Rafe Husain

    I sold my car ride ebike stay on right lane and i get beeped regularly. But i am able to catch up and give them my few cents. Most of the drivers are shocked when i catch up and blubber lies. ..
    https://youtu.be/wNPfY5qg4I8

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