Saturday, September 4, 2010

Crime vs. Accident?

I was cycling across town with a friend today, who suggested that we take the side streets instead of my usual route along the major roads. We were cycling on one of these quiet streets, when a sedan passed us too closely and hit my friend's bicycle with the side of their car.

The impact was not strong enough to knock the bicycle over, but it did happen - and the driver kept going until forced to stop at a red light. We caught up to the driver, and my friend quickly took a cell-phone picture of the license plate - at which point the driver stopped the car and came out, expressing annoyance. My friend said, "You hit me with your car." The driver replied, "Well, you should have been more careful!" (More careful? We were cycling in a straight line in broad daylight!) At that point my friend took out their phone and called the police - telling the driver that they were going to file a report. Bewildered ("The police? But you're fine!") the driver got back in their car, pulled over to the side of the road, and we all waited.

The officer arrived and asked whether anybody was injured and whether there was any damage to the bicycle. When we replied in the negative, the officer seemed confused: "So there is nothing to do here then." We repeated that the driver hit my friend with their car, to which the officer (politely) replied, "Well, if nobody was injured and there is no damage to your bicycle, that's not a crime. That's an accident." He then proceeded to file a report of the "accident," stressing verbally that there has been no injury or material damage. Both my friend and the driver gave testimony, and I gave testimony as a witness. We were then informed of where and when we could pick up a copy of the report, and everyone went their separate ways.

And this brings me to my question. Is it correct, that unless a driver actually injures a cyclist or damages a bicycle while hitting them, then hitting a cyclist in itself is not illegal? That is basically what the officer was telling us, but it does not sound right to me. What about the "passing no closer than 3 feet" rule? If a driver hits a cyclist while passing, does that not automatically mean that they were closer than 3 feet?  The driver was unapologetic about what happened, and did not deny that they saw us prior to hitting my friend's bicycle. Yet the officer did not even ask the driver why they did not pass us at a safer distance. Perhaps what the officer meant to express, was that there was no way to determine what actually happened without video cameras or tangible evidence (such as injury or damage to the bicycle) - but his words did not come across that way.

Regardless of the outcome, I am glad that my friend filed a report. As I understand it, these things get entered into the DOT statistical data, and can lead to the development of safer infrastructure on that street if enough such incidents are reported. But I remain confused about what type of collision between motor vehicle and bicycle constitutes an illegal act versus what constitutes an accident. Can any of the cycling activists out there fill me in?

50 comments:

  1. You have a civil claim, but because there isn't any damage, there is no money to recover. As for criminal charges, I'd be surprised if this doesn't violate a reckless driving statute; injury or not.

    I'm not an attorney, just a student. I'd recommend that you speak to a lawyer who offers free consultations.

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  2. Interesting question. One important consideration is intent. An "accident" implies lack of intent to touch your friend's bike with the car. A crime would probably involve some sort of intent, on the other hand. I suggest you have a look at the law of assault and battery in your jurisdiction, both the criminal type and the civil type. In some areas, it would be possible to sue the driver, even if there is no damage. Your friend certainly did the right thing to at least get a report filed.

    Or, your friend could simply chalk it up to very bad and immature behavior, and move on. I'm not saying that's what should be done, just that it's an option.

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  3. It did not happen to me, I was just a witness. My friend does not want compensation, but I think was hoping that the police would educate the driver as to proper behaviour around cyclists. Sadly, that did not happen.

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  4. And as far as the 3-foot rule, that's not law in all areas. I don't think there is such a law in my town. Alas.

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  5. But maybe the driver will be a little more generous with lane space next time? I thought a crime meant the law was broken, regardless of intent. It is, for example, a crime to litter.

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  6. I was once in a car accident where another driver rear ended me at very very low speed. No harm to either driver, and no damage to either car. We didn't call the police, and if we had I can well imagine the officer would have wondered why.

    Still, had there been damage, there would have been a "finding" of fault, and perhaps a ticket issued. Compensation for damages too.

    I suppose it would have been more satisfying if the officer had "educated" the driver, but that would have required determining fault and that would have taken time and the bottom line is no one was hurt and the bike wasn't damaged.

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  7. Oh Velouria! thanks for posting this!!

    i actually reported a driver's tag to the Jacksonville Sheriff's office a few weeks back because a car INTENTIONALLY dove at me, honked, passing me within 6", and then zipped away. The same thing happened to me. The officer said that unless there was an injury or damage to my bike, there was nothing could do.

    I asked the officer, "So, if a driver had waved a gun at me, it would be the same?"

    Officer: "Well, no. Obviously."

    Me: "I was threatened with a deadly weapon. His car. How is that any different?"

    Officer: "Because he threatened you with a car. Not a gun."

    Me: "Either will maim or kill."

    The officer just shrugged as if to say..."Meh."

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  8. Very often, police officers don't know how and when traffic laws apply to cyclists. So, for example, they may not be aware of a "three foot rule" if indeed there is one in your area.

    Also, many police officers don't take transgressions against cyclists seriously. And, as with the officer you encountered, they don't take an incident seriously if nobody's hurt and nothing's damaged. For some, that may be a result of dealing with more tragic and destructive doings.

    The driver's reaction reminds me of that of the driver who doored me the day before Thanksgiving. "You should have looked where you were going!" I pointed out that I was and that he had an equal responsiblility to look our for cyclists, especially since he had parked next to a well-used bike lane. He couldn't or wouldn't hear it.

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  9. Some crimes (like littering) don't require intent. Some require recklessness. Most (like assault or attempted assault) require some sort of bad intent.

    Thanks for bringing this up, Velouria - you've inspired me to learn more about the laws, in case something like this happens to me too.

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  10. Justine Valinotti said...
    "He couldn't or wouldn't hear it."


    Yes, that was the weird thing. I was surprised by how unconcerned the driver seemed about what happened, as if they honestly had no idea what the big deal was... while at the same time not denying that they hit a cyclist and not even trying to do the "I didn't see them" thing. It was just luck that the impact did not knock my friend off the bike; things could have ended so much worse. And somehow neither the driver nor the police officer seemed to recognised that aspect of the situation.

    Regarding recklessness, etc. - I have never been in this situation before (knock on wood) and as it was unfolding I did not give a lot of thought to what exactly I expected would happen. But like my friend, I too thought that the appropriate thing to do if a car hits you is to report it to the police. And I suppose I expected the officer to maybe ticket the driver for reckless driving, or at least issue a warning - and when that did not happen, I was genuinely confused.

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  11. oy, i don't know what to say other than i'm glad that no one was hurt and that your friends bike wasn't damaged.

    was this in somerville or cambridge (or other town)? i agree with justine, in that sometimes police simply don't know how to categorize the incident and whether it applies to cyclists. is it a moving vehicle accident? a pedestrian accident? a cycling accident? i also know firsthand that some police simply don't want to get involved once they learn that no one was injured and that material damages are non-existent or negligible, and either try to walk away from filing a report or file a report so vague as to be useless (even when it involved my 4-year old daughter and i getting knocked to the ground from by bike by a motorist).

    however, i don't understand how this has to do with being on a side street versus a major thoroughfare.

    justine, as of 2010 in massachusetts, drivers are required to check for oncoming bikes before opening their door to traffic. but i once observed a police officer almost door the cyclist in front of me, and his reaction (mostly verbal) was nothing short of pure contempt for the cyclist, who as i recall, was just pedaling along in the bike lane and not breaking any laws. i stopped and politely reminded the officer of the new law, and the office responded with nothing short of contempt for me as well :-(.

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  12. somervillain - I admit to the loose association here between the incident and side streets. The connections is, that I tend to have considerably more negative encounters with motor vehicles on side streets than I do on large roads, which is why over time I began to avoid side streets. The type of incidents I mean are honking, and erratic behaviour from drivers who seem genuinely confused about what to do when a cyclist is in front of them. There are also fewer witnesses on quiet side streets, and it is possible that drivers feel more free to express frustration against cyclists or behave in a way they would not if they were worried about being seen by others.

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  13. So glad to hear that your friend was not hurt! As for police seeming to be unaware of the laws and/or not wanting to be bothered, it's the same thing here. I've had several occasions where a cop nearly hit me because they couldn't be bothered to pass at a safe distance (and once when a cop in the oncoming lane ran off the road while watching me. That one makes me want to get a video camera mounted to the handlebars!)

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  14. i certainly agree about about witnesses: when we were hit on a major street, at least five motorists had witnessed it and stopped, all providing the same story to the police officer who later arrived on the scene. and i would probably agree that drivers are more accustomed to seeing cyclists on major streets, and better understand their spatial relationship to cyclists (e.g., motor vehicle lane versus bike lane).

    but two things that i am perpetually paranoid about on major thoroughfares are getting doored, especially when i am restricted to staying within the bike lane, and getting clipped by taxi cabs.

    as for getting doored, it is on major thoroughfares that you tend to see more metered parking as opposed to residential, and this means a higher rate of drivers getting in and out of their cars. on side streets, many of which are one-way, i can take the lane (which i do almost exclusively now), freeing me from any risk of getting doored. sure, this sometimes leads to frustrated drivers behind me, but the chance of a driver intentionally taking his frustration out on me (i.e., acting on intent to harm) for taking the lane is pretty low, in my estimation, compared with all the other risks from generally negligent drivers.

    as for taxi drivers, i also seem to have most, if not all, my negative (and potentially dangerous) encounters with taxi cabs on major streets. cabbies are the worst, and probably account for 90% of all negative vehicular encounters i experience as a cyclist. they have a tendency to drift into the bike lane without looking or signaling. that doesn't seem to happen on the quieter streets, at least in my experience.

    so, i really think the risks are just different on the different types of streets.

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  15. I would have done the same thing as the two of you did. I think data collection is very important. Whereas I wouldn't call the police if I had a little fender bender in my car, I absolutely would if I were on the bike. I guess it's because the stakes are so much higher. ANY contact with a cyclist by a motor vehicle is a big deal since there's no protection.

    I would check though if there is a passing law in your town/state. If so, the driver clearly admitted to hitting your friend and not giving safe passing distance. It seems that a traffic citation for not passing safely would apply here even though there was not damage and injury to report.

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  16. somervillain - I was cycling home on a nice sunny day recently and took a short cut through side streets. This was in Cambridge near Harvard Sq. and I took a right on Broadway onto Prescott St to get to Cambridge St, at which point I would also turn right. A car that had also turned right onto Prescott St was driving behind me - honking the *entire block*. I was initially taking the lane, but moved aside when I sensed her (it was a woman in her mid-40s, which is a frequent demographic of people who honk at me) behind me. There was room, but she was afraid to pass me and kept honking continuously - I mean, not removing her hand from the horn - until I turned the corner onto Cambridge. Apparently she wanted me to come to a complete stop and move my bicycle onto the sidewalk or in between the parked cars so that she could comfortably pass me? I have no idea. But this is the sort of thing I mean.

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  17. I was once hit from behind but my panniers were so full they took the brunt of the impact and the guy did slow down. My leg hurt but no harm done and my ortlieb panniers were barely scratched. It was however very scary because it was dark, raining and on the highway in a rural area. I was in shock and didn't know what to do and as I approached the car the man drove off! He was an elderly man and maybe should not have been on the road. I was on the shoulder as far right as possible-not even on the road and was well lit up.
    As a cyclist I encounter loads of abuse but just grumble under my breath. In Canada where I am at least I found out that if you do call the police and file a complaint about being hit, abused, harassed etc the police might not really do anything if there are no injuries, BUT it will go on the driver's abstract that they did such and such a thing so that if ever they got stopped for speeding or some infraction, a red flag will come up from the reported incidents and they will definitely get ticketed more severely.

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  18. Whether or not there is a three foot rule, the driver had a duty to allow a reasonable clearance. I recommend following up with the nonemergency police number and relating the particulars to the duty officer. The policeman was entirely incorrect.

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  19. Well you could call it an "accident" but really it's a collisions caused by negligence or bad judgement. I think the word "accident" connotes innocence and lets too many people off the hook.

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  20. Somervillain 10:4 4pm
    "I also know firsthand that some police simply don't want to get involved once they learn that no one was injured and that material damages are non-existent or negligible, and either try to walk away from filing a report or file a report so vague as to be useless"

    I think you are grossly underestimating the lack of knowledge and the bias on the part of some police officers. 4 years ago a teenager with an SUV hit me in a parking lot. I was knocked down, and the bicycle had enough damage (bent crank, rack) that I could not ride it home. The teenager said he couldn't pay for the damage and drove off.

    I did get the police to come eventually; when I finally got the police report
    * The teenager was not cited at all
    * The report said no injuries, in direct contradiction to my comments. The officer did not want to hear about pain and severe bruises, so he narrowed the question – any broken bones, or do I need to go to a hospital immediately
    * The officer listed safety equipment incorrectly - omitted lights, leading to quite a bit of conversation with the kid's insurance company (yes, I had lights).

    The report was not vague and useless; it was distorted and useful to the driver and his insurance company.

    I still do not believe the teenager would be told it's fine to refuse to pay and drive off if he had hit another car.

    I think the officer had no training or experience (didn't notice obvious lights and didn't ask) and could not accept the notion that bicyclists can be allowed to do anything but stay out of the way of cars, even in a shopping center parking lot. (Even this officer had to provide the name of the teenager's insurance company, who eventually paid for damage to the bicycle.)

    After discussion with two other officers (pulled over for following normal traffic laws) and DOT highway planners (they told me cars NEVER have to yield to bicycles anywhere), I think a noticeable minority of officers believe bicyclists are not allowed to ride outside of separated paths. If bicyclists are not allowed in roads, it follows that the bicyclists are at fault in every collision, including those with property damage and injuries.

    The police have prevented passage of a 3 foot passing law in Delaware; the president of the state Bicycle Council is frustrated because they will not give her an explanation.

    Somervillain 11:21 pm
    I have read that Somerville has make bike lane usage mandatory. Are all the Somerville bike lanes in door zones?, Is mandatory use enforced aggressively? If so, how?

    Almost all the bike lanes I’ve seen in Baltimore and Philadelphia are in door zones. I assume this is why they are mandatory in Baltimore (hardly any cyclists would use these lanes more than once if they were not mandatory). In Philadelphia, individual officers seem to decide if use is mandatory.

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  21. If that driver was using his car as a weapon to "send a message" I think he should be punished, but it's difficult to prove.

    Sorry for asking but, were you claiming the lane? I always claim the lane (ride in the center) on one-way one-lane streets to discourage close passing. The most dangerous thing I've came across is some idiot honking like mad, but you learn to let them go :-)

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  22. A big cheer for you intrepid souls who are blazing a trail for the rest of us cyclists who would love to use our bicycles as our main form of transportation but are too mistrustful of motorists to take the plunge.
    The greater the cycling presence, the more motorists will accept cyclists, become accustomed to looking out for us, and know what to do in our presence, and infrastructure and laws will change to accommodate our needs. Who knows- perhaps because of your collective efforts, the public will actually come to appreciate the cyclist (as they should!). Thank you!

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  23. So, a hit-and-run is not a hit-and-run unless someone is killed?! This is infuriating. If in a motor vehicle accident, drivers are supposed to stop and exchange insurance information. I see no reason for this to be different if a car accidentally (or intentionally) hits a cyclist.

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  24. that is the worst reasoning ever. the driver should've at least gotten a ticket. if i run a red light, but didn't cause an accident, i'd still get a ticket. any traffic violation would've resulted in a fine. if the officer was familiar with the 3 feet passing rule, he would've written him a ticket (don't cops want any reason to write a ticket?).

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  25. I think I understand your heading regarding side vs major streets. On major roads, I find drivers are more cognizant of being in a traffic system whereas side streets, being less busy, allow for breaking of rules (by everyone, j-walkers, salmoning cyclists, double parkers...). Living in Chicago, I find people aren't looking for me when I'm on the side streets, and that's even more harrowing when its a narrow road with traffic moving in both directions. That said, I've been hit no less than 6 times this year and 4 of those times were on more major streets. But in all of those cases, it was a car making a right without a signal, without moving over, and certainly without looking (65% cell phone usage probably contributed too). I was only tossed from the bike once where I actually had to get a name/number and compensation to fix the bike. I don't call the police, but I do summon my best "stern dad" tone and without making a scene, I calmly implore them to be more careful, use signals, and then I remind them that Chicago has steep fines for negligently hitting a cyclist. So far I'm 6 for 6 with people being visibly relieved that it didn't end worse. I like to believe that most people are just not aware of their responsibilities and that sense of a second chance will stick with them and teach them to watch out. Call the police when reason fails, but in cities with (lets face it) bigger problems than jackass motorists, the cops are probably going to see it as a useless exercise. They should remind motorists, yes, but they're people too, and well, you know... people...

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  26. I'm glad no one was hurt; close encounters are always frightening.

    Here's a link to information on the 2009 updates to bike laws in MA:

    http://www.massbike.org/resourcesnew/bike-law/bike-law-update/

    These paragraphs make it clear that motorists must give bicyclists "safe distance", though they don't specifically say how much:

    4. Don’t Cut Off Bicyclists After Passing : Motorists used to be required only to stay a safe distance to the left of a bicyclist (or any other vehicle) when passing; now, motorists are also prohibited from returning to the right until safety clear of the bicyclist.

    5. Don’t Squeeze Bicyclists in Narrow Lanes : If the lane is too narrow for a motorist to pass a bicycle (or any other vehicle) at a safe distance while staying in the lane, the motorist must use another lane to pass, or, if that is also unsafe, the motorist must wait until it is safe to pass.


    Then this one:

    8. Motorists Liable for Hitting Bicyclists Riding to the Right : Bicycles, unlike other vehicles, are permitted to ride to the right of other traffic (e.g., on the shoulder), and motorists are not permitted to use this fact as a legal defense for causing a crash with a bicyclist.

    Notice the phrase "causing a crash". I wonder what MA law defines as a crash. It is contact, or must there be an injury?

    Personally, I'd contact a lawyer who specializes in bicycle law to see if there's any possible recourse.

    Alan@EcoVelo

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  27. I doubt that the lack of damage or injury means there was no violation. I don't know about Massachusetts, but under Chicago law a driver in that situation who did not deny hitting a bicyclist should be cited, at the least, for violating the 3-feet passing rule.

    Unfortunately, my experience dealing with the city law enforcement offices is that some workers are totally uninformed about the laws. I'm still angry at the 311 operator who told me that a driver who, on a sidestreet when I was minding my own business, passed within inches while honking, slammed on his brakes in front of me and yelled that I should get the fuck off the road did not commit assault, but only "ignorance," which there is no law against.

    Sorry this happened to you and your friend.

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  28. V. I am very glad your friend was not hurt, although I'm sure she shocked and frightened. I suggest you go to Mass Bike Coalition: http://www.massbike.org/. They educate police departments as well as cyclists. I also suggest you and your friend wear helmets. Mine saved my noggin once when a woman swung way right trying to parallel park.

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  29. matt,

    "I've been hit no less than 6 times this year..."

    You're doing something wrong.

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  30. I am so glad your friend is ok! Sounds scary!

    Re side streets. I avoid them selectively for a few reasons. It is tempting to take a side street with or without a bike lane because it will generally be prettier. I don't, though, because here a side street, especially the kind that only affords a slight detour, is generally populated by the kind of asshole driver who wants to go faster than a main artery in NYC will allow. In my Brooklyn neighborhood, the side streets have stop signs and drivers rarely stop completely. Also because of absolutely endemic illegal parking and idling right up to the intersection, you really can't see a car until it is almost to the intersection and cars move so quickly that I end up having to make far more full stops than I do on a huge thoroughfare which is also wider and has clearer traffic behavior (lights, gridlock etc). All of these factors make me put up with my crap truck route. I also believe, ironically, that on these streets gridlock is a friend to bicyclists. Sob! Dear NYC I love you, but you suck.

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  31. I once rear-ended someone with my car. Totally my fault as I let my foot slip off the brake while we were both stopped on a slight hill. She called the police even though the impact didn't even disrupt the dirt on either of our bumpers. The cops said there was nothing to report and told us if we wanted to file reports, we'd have to do it at the police station.

    Sorry this happened to you both!! I had a driver yell and scream at me earlier this summer for not stopping and my repeatedly pointing out that had I stopped (as I was doing when he cut the corner into my lane) I would be under his car. I had to keep going to avoid being hit. I kept saying "look where your car is! That's where I would have been if I'd continued to slow to a stop." He just got more angry, as did I. In general, no one wants to be in the wrong. We are a society of blamers. sigh.

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  32. This is bananas, we get clipped by cars all day long.
    What are you doing calling the police and talking about statutes, claims, criminal responsibility........ just tell the guy to be aware of cyclists and not drive like an ass or the only charge given in this case is likely to be one of wasting police time.

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  33. Thanks to everyone for replying; your comments have given me a lot to think about. I think it is important that these incidents are reported even if the outcome is not satisfactory: At least it is on record and at least (maybe?) the driver will think twice before behaving similarly in future.

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  34. Anon 8:07 - I don't know. I have been clipped a couple of times, but what happened here was beyond that. It was pure luck that my friend was able to keep their balance. Where would you draw the line between a-hole behaviour and liability? I am not sure myself, but it doesn't sit well with me that hitting a cyclist is not in itself considered illegal.

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  35. So, to put it into a car perspective, imagine if you're parallel parked, and you come out to find that there's a car that's really close to you. You try your best, but end up bumping the other car, accidentally. You pull forward, get out, look, and don't see any damage to either car. Do you call the police? If so, would the reporting officer have a similar reaction that that one had?

    I understand the frustration, and it upsets me greatly to be buzzed by a driver on the road, but I think that in instances where there isn't any damage or injuries, it falls under the "no harm, no foul" idea...especially since the three foot rule is, in most places, exactly that - a rule. It isn't a law, and therefore, probably isn't citable.

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  36. What truly disturbs me is that the only recourse one has in a situation like this is if property is damaged --Like if Velouria's friend's bike was damaged, well, that's something. Otherwise what? Nothing? That there is no automatic violation issued for hitting someone with a car is actually insane and says much about our culture and what we value.

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  37. Firstly, I'm glad everyone is OK.

    Alan beat me to the mass bike law links. There's not a specific 3' rule in MA, which most advocates think is actually better, because 3' is kind of arbitrary, and who carries a yardstick with them at all times?
    Obviously passing close enough to hit someone is not passing safely.
    I keep meaning to print out a copy of the MA bike laws to tuck into the pocket of my pannier, and keep forgetting, maybe now would be a good time.
    @ Matthew the issue is that a little fender bender between two cars is either nothing, or a small bodywork issue, while a fender bender between a car and a bike is less an issue of property damage, than the potential for grievous bodily harm.

    I ride a fair bit on side streets, and I'm not sure that the streets are to blame. I think that if the lane is too small to share, as in your Prescott example, you just have to take the lane, and lead the parade. If someone gets all upset about it, I think, what would they do if someone were paralllel parking and they had to stop, would they honk their horn then? Side streets are for going slowly, if they're in such a hurry that they can't stop for a kid, a biker, a parallel parker, then they should take a bigger street.

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  38. While it's true that cars may accidentally touch each other's bumpers while entering/leaving a parallel parking spot, and if such collisions are minor *and* damage-free no one would write a report about it, the same is not true for moving vehicle vs moving cyclists.

    It's not even the fact that bicycles don't have "bumpers," it's that any slight contact of a cyclist by an automobile could result in a fall and then a person being run over by traffic or a grave injury from the fall itself. It seems that the situation of this particular incident in terms of "blame" is similar to a driver hitting but not injuring a pedestrian who had the right of way--basically not cool, not legal. Police are not terribly sympathetic to pedestrians either, but at least they don't get told by authorities to "walk safely" in the future (or something like that) as a prize for their misadventures.

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  39. @Herzog, by "hit" I include times when cars have begun a right turn and brushed my leg with their front quarter-panel enough for me to yell, "hey" and slap their windshield. I am a firm proponent of biking where I belong in the road regardless of bike lane demarcation. I respect turn signals and rights of way, but I don't fear cars in city traffic because I AM city traffic. If someone can't see a six foot tall dude with a yellow bike helmet who is even with their right front tire, then I believe it is the driver who is doing something wrong. I also don't believe apprehensive cyclists should adopt such a strict adversarial relationship with motorists. Being responsible and confident make for better traffic systems.

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  40. As others have posted, the driver made an unsafe pass, which is a ticketable offense. That said, many officers will not issue a ticket for a driving offense that does not cause damage or injury unless they witness it themselves. However, in this case, it seems like the driver was admitting to the unsafe passing. So if nobody is denying the event, why didn't he issue a ticket?

    That is the question I would ask the police.

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  41. I'm a little late getting to this post. I agree with Alan about consulting with an attorney. It is clear to me that if your friend wanting to press the issue that there is the reasonable complaint of battery with a deadly weapon. A car can be used as a deadly weapon; your friend was hit; I'm sure there was a moment when your friend feared for his/her life.

    Sure, no one was hurt. About the most you could expect from the driver is an apology and maybe a traffic citation for reckless driving. The thing is that your friend must really press the issue if anything is going to happen.

    I know some one who was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon because she came to close to another women getting out of her car as my friend was driving by in her car. The person pressing charges was an off duty police officer who didn't like my friend. This women kept pressing the issue until a warrent was issued. This is a felony charge and had a high bond amount. After spending lots of money and time the whole thing was dismissed a year later. Oh, and my friend had to write an apology letter. Of course the whole thing was a big lie.

    Any way, the point is that a battery occurred and if your friend really wanted to make an issue out this, then people would have to listen.

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  42. Wonderful that everyone is ok. So scary!

    Issuance of a ticket under most 3 foot passing statutes requires the officer to witness the offense, but tickets could have been issued for failure to yield or negligent driving.

    I put up a post on a similar situation with a similar result--no ticket issued. See http://randalputnam.wordpress.com/2009/12/21/limit-of-the-law/. The best advice in the post is to read Bicycling and the Law: Your Rights as a Cyclist by Bob Mionske. He is the preeminent bicycle lawyer in the country. Your questions will all be answered.

    Take care!
    .

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  43. It was good luck that your friend wasn't knocked off by the bad driver. But you can't make a bad story out of this, because it has a good ending. That's why the officer was technically correct. You can't file damages against someone who COULD have caused damage, injury or death.

    In a situation like this, it's best to tell the driver what he did and what you'd like him to do in that kind of situation. So if he had sideswiped me, I would have said, "You hit me with your car, and it could have injured me badly. It also scared the life out of me. Please leave more room when you pass a cyclist, and if there isn't room, please wait until there is."

    In fact, I did this Saturday. The driver actually thanked me for the tip. Now THAT was a surprise.

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  44. I'm sorry to hear about your misfortune, but glad all is well. Two weeks ago I was coming home from a short shopping trip Saturday night about 9pm, front and rear lights blazing, safety triangle on basket, reflective vest, wheel & pedal reflectors all check. I was riding out of the door zone on the Main Street of my town when a car following behind me crosses the yellow line, guns the engine, passes me, then jams on the brakes, swerves in front of me and shoots down a small one-way street that leads to municipal parking.

    I had to slam my brakes hard to avoid hitting the car. If I had been going 1mph faster, or the road was 5 feet sooner, he would have hit me. I followed the car. The driver parked, then got out and started threatening me when I inquired what was the problem. Since he was very large and very young, as was his fellow passenger, I didn't doubt that he would get physically violent since he had already assaulted me with his car, so I memorized the license plate and left.

    I debated calling the police, but for the very reason your story is so frustrating--a total lack of concern by law enforcement--I decided it was best to chalk it up to a close call. Since I wear a distinctive safety vest and I'm one of the few regular cyclists in town, I worried about creating a "revenge" situation with this guy and/or his friends. It would not be hard to find me.

    I feel bad that he gets away with something like this, but unfortunately, reporting it in this case would likely only bring me more grief. However, if something like this happened again, I think I would be compelled to take the risk and make a report.

    Iron fish

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  45. As a cyclist in California I have always taken the "swimming with sharks" attitude towards riding on roads with the cars and trucks. It feels exactly like I'm placing myself in the food chain. Most surfers spend thier lives surfing with sharks swimming just feet from them and never get attacked...just like most cyclists will ride out thier days free from impact with a car...however...every so often someone will get hit...or bitten. When I'm on the road I try and place myself in the safest possible position I can, even if thats smack in the middle of the road, to lessen the chances of accidental interaction. And I have had people try and get as close as they can to me, and even motorcyclists trying to pat me on the back or push me or whatever it was they were doing. Its the risk I take by putting myself out there. Now if I DO get hit...and its with malice, you can best believe if I live, someones going to jail. If I dont live...well I'll cross that bridge when I get to it ;)

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  46. Hitting a car with a car is not a crime in and of itself.

    Why should a bicycle be different?

    (Equally important, it isn't under the law anywhere, as far as I know.)

    If the person was driving recklessly, that's a crime (or at least a ticketable offense), but one that's hard to prove without the cop being there.

    Mere inattention or simply misjudging space is not criminal, if no harm is caused.

    (Just like it's not a crime for two cyclists to collide, or for a cyclist to hit a car, without damaging it.)

    (Contra other commenters, battery requires intent to cause harm. Assault likewise typically requires intentional physical contact.

    Stumbling into someone isn't assault, nor is brushing their bike with your car.

    Not liking it doesn't make it a crime.)

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  47. I'm very sorry to hear about your friend's accident, but I'm also sorry to read in your title that you avoid side streets. I've never heard the "side streets are more dangerous" argument until just this year, and that's after 23 years of commuting exclusively by bicycle-mostly on side streets. Even if the argument were true, I don't enjoy riding with the sound and smell of cars. Additionally, for me, fewer cars means fewer opportunities to experience road rage (speaking for myself).

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  48. Did You Know?
    - 90% of walking accidents occur in urban areas
    - 75% of walking accidents happen at, or near, a road junction
    - 80% of walking accidents occur in daylight
    - 80% of walking casualties are male
    - About one quarter of the cyclists killed or injured are children
    - Around two quarters of cyclists killed have major head injuries

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  49. Two quarters, is one half... off way to express a volume!

    Any physical contact with other materia other than rubber on road, must be interesting info to the insurance companies!?

    I got hit from the rear, A van glances off my overstuffed megazised brightly colored Timbuk2 bag. It was very snowy that day 2 years ago, but I had no choice but to make a trip to town. I gave the perp the finger as he drove away, but he decided to stay futher up the hill. I didn´t stop or talk to him at all in fear of beatining him up! He had an ornotologist badge on the back window, and I know the area is very interesting to them for that reason. So I bet he wasnt really waching the road...

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