Police Have it Wrong: Traffic Flow vs. Safety
Have you ever had one of those “epiphany moments” when something that was always obvious –yet subtly hidden– then explodes into your consciousness and you experience the light-bulb “AHA!! Yes!! Of Course!!!” moment?
It happened to me at the most recent Florida Bicycle Association quarterly meeting in West Palm Beach, where I had been invited as a guest to come in, listen, and learn more about what FBA is doing for cycling and cyclists here in the state of Florida.
I can tell you lots of good things are happening within FBA — so much so that I’d have to write another post to tell you all about the many things FBA is working on. But I’ll stick to this one project FBA is developing which makes a hell of a lot of sense to me — that is, working with law departments to help train their officers on the issues that affect cyclists.
The idea is to get in front of law enforcement groups to present information and training to help the officers understand the law/rights/issues that confront cyclists who use the roads. As part of the presentation, George Martin created a PowerPoint slideshow to highlight the main ideas that FBA wanted to convey. The slideshow mentions all the things that we all know about and can almost repeat verbatim — the Florida statutes on defining a bicycle as a vehicle, the “close as practicable” issue, 3-foot law, reasons for taking the lane, etc. OK, nothing earth-shattering. All good stuff, all important, but no big revelation — until about halfway through where I saw a slide which said in effect: Police — you’re worrying about the wrong things with cyclists. You’re worrying about traffic flow issues, and not safety issues.
BANG!! It was like a gun going off inside my brain. How obvious, and yet I never picked up on this!!
Police have been concentrating on the wrong issues. What is one of the biggest reason for a cyclist to get pulled over when riding on the roads? Hint — think about our friend Fred_dot_U’s most recent experience. That’s right, he was pulled because he was (a) not far enough to the right and that made him (b) an impediment to traffic flow (in the officer’s mind, anyway).
Where is any safety issue(s) being addressed? It could be argued that a cyclist like Fred is endangering himself when riding on the road in the manner that he has chosen (vehicularly), but we can prove statistically that isn’t the case. What police are choosing to do is enforce traffic flow issues over safety issues — perhaps unconsciously, but more likely due to a cultural shift of the concerns of society about having unencumbered access to the street.
Mighk Wilson had done some reading on this and pointed out that early on, police were NOT interested in dealing with traffic flow issues, but were much more concerned with safety issues — specifically at the time (I think it was the early 20th century) it was how to get pedestrians safely across the street. Somewhere along the way, safety has taken a back seat to traffic flow such that now the flow of traffic has been deemed critical for society and something for law enforcement to regulate. Today we have an auto-centric view of traffic that supports the notion that the auto drivers come first and much further down the line are cyclists and pedestrians. That’s completely backwards from a safety perspective. The most vulnerable members of traffic are first pedestrians, followed second by cyclists. Next would be motorized two wheels (electric bikes, scooters, motorcycles) followed finally by autos and then trucks.
So what are the safety issues that we, cyclists would like to see law enforcement concentrate on for us? The FBA would like to see more enforcement in the following areas:
- For motorists — Improper passing and following too close (enforcement of the 3-foot rule), harassment for being on the road, reckless endangerment and assault.
- For cyclists — Red-light running, wrong-way riding and riding without lights at night.
Doesn’t this make sense to you? LEOs: Quit worrying over how far to the right a cyclist is riding (traffic flow issue), but do make sure they are riding in the correct direction, are stopping at red lights, and if riding at night have the proper equipment (all safety issues, statistically proven to be the cause of the majority of bicycle accidents). Write tickets for those that do not comply! To help cyclists share the road, make sure motorists do not threaten the safety of the cyclist by acting aggressively with their car or pass too closely. Write some tickets!
I believe if this message is taken under serious consideration by local police and other law departments, and action taken, then we could see significant, positive changes for cyclists. I for one would love to see cyclists pulled over and ticketed for running red lights. I don’t think it would take many before the word spreads through the cycling community — yes, you’re not supposed to run and yes, you will get a ticket if they see you. I’m sure there are motorists who would appreciate seeing a few of these tickets given out as well, and I’d sure like to eliminate “running red lights” as a major pet-peeve that motorists have against cyclists. Consequently, I’d love to see motorists who deserve it ticketed for unsafe passing of a cyclist.
But most of all, what I would like to see is all police and law enforcement as a friend to cyclists, who care about our safety and take it as being more important than how fast traffic flows.