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In Alabama, some police officers don’t know bike law

A few years ago, a bicyclist was pulled over in Shelby County by a sheriff’s deputy. He was threatened with a ticket for “obstructing traffic.” Apparently, the sheriff had not passed the cyclist as he cycled up a hill and, not surprisingly, no one had passed the sheriff, so a few cars were, in fact, backed up. The deputy told the cyclist that the law required the cyclist to pull over and walk his bicycle up hills or on narrow curvy roads. When the cyclist tried to tell the deputy that the law required no such thing, the cyclist was threatened with a ticket.

Of course, this is not the first nor, unfortunately, will it be the last time this sort of thing happens. A few years ago a very similar incident happened and the cyclist in that case told the officer to give him a ticket. The officer did so; the cyclist notified bicycle advocacy groups; and after meetings with City officials – the ticket was dropped.

Alabama Code Section 32-5A-260 very clearly states “Every person riding a bicycle upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle [with very limited exceptions].” The most obvious exception, of course, is limited access roads, like interstates, which have a minimum speed of 40 mph. Almost without exception, no other roads have minimum speeds.

A bicyclist is just like a car or truck – it is traffic. Albeit slower than most cars or trucks, but traffic nonetheless. A bicyclist going up a hill at 10 mph when the speed limit is 45 mph is no more “obstructing traffic” than the little old lady traveling 20 mph in a 45 mph zone, or a large truck laboring up a hill at 30 mph in a 65 mph zone. Aggravating to be behind – sure. Guilty of obstructing traffic – absolutely not. Of course, a bicyclist is much, much easier to safely pass than the little old lady or the large truck in the above example.

Whether the police officers who have cited or threatened cyclists with tickets for “obstructing traffic” truly are ignorant of the law or, as I frankly suspect is sometimes the case, know, but don’t like the law and want to “cleverly” ensure the world is safe and convenient for motorists and motorists only – does not really matter. The result is the same. No one wants to deal with the hassle of a ticket, whether the ticket is justified, or as is the case here, entirely unjustified. I hope that cyclists and cycling advocates use this recent example to let their elected officials, the Sheriff, city councilors, mayors etc. know that police officers must be properly trained in knowing what the law is as regarding cyclists, and perhaps even more importantly, in enforcing the law in an even-handed manner such that the rights of cyclists are recognized rather than denigrated.

If you ever get a ticket while cycling, give me a call to make sure that the officer knew the law.

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