Call

Blog

Law
02

Blog

The Court Of Public Opinion v. Bicycle Fatality

There is an old saying in journalism, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” The legal profession is no stranger to this standard of diligence. You very well might get every lawyer to admit his or her favorite word is “allegedly.” Take the first policy I learned when clerking for Freeman Kevenides Law Firm: accept a police crash report on its face value as simply being a record of an incident having occurred.

Despite being an absolute necessity, the crash report is not the end all/be all. Neither is the media’s assessment. What we do with the crash report is unpack some of the facts of that incident independently. The police are put in a situation where they might need to issue citations to someone on the spot, and reporters are in a situation where they must report everything immediately. Our experience has led us to discover that, more often than not, the crash report and the subsequent news will have a number of case-making/breaking inaccuracies. Unfortunately, there is hardly ever an option to appeal in the Court of Public Opinion and the impressions made by both institutions upon motorists have often skewed the minds of the general public long before the story unfolds.

Take the portrayal of this recent tragedy in Spirit Lake in northern Iowa.  A young woman allegedly riding a bicycle on Highway 71 with the direction of traffic was struck and killed by a young man who was driving a motor vehicle. The tragic consequences for the victim (having lost her life) and for the driver (having this horrific memory for the rest of his life) are nothing to take lightly. That aside, it was rather troubling to follow every news source’s coverage of the accident. As of this writing, the details were still pending.

The ease with which many news outlets can revert to the dreaded “Car vs. Bicycle Fatality” headline is always disturbing. In this instance, the details from the paper indicate that it was around midnight, therefore it was dark. While many details on the conditions of the driver were still unknown at the time of publication, the immediacy in reporting that the cyclist had no lights, the cyclist did not wear a helmet, the cyclist’s clothes were dark, and that the cyclist was in the roadway were all apparently noteworthy facts in almost every report. Some reports went so far as to declare that the law requires bicyclists to “consider” wearing bright clothing and helmets and to “consider” riding on the sidewalks. (Aside from finding no state or local laws requiring a road user to dress in a certain way, there is the constitutionally questionable sidepath ordinance in Spirit Lake.)

I have to believe the media included this information as a good faith effort to promote what the habits of safe cycling entail, thereby turning this negative event into a positive lesson. If that is the case, attempting to make a positive out of a negative certainly deserves credit for good intentions. What is worrisome, however, is that this methodology brings with it the negative consequences that will dangerously affect the minds of all road users. A cyclist’s negligence is certainly one possibility, but it is merely a possibility and should not be led to conclusively. When a story of a horrific collision is quickly painted as an issue that existed solely because of a cyclist, there’s a problem. I cringe at the number of households shrugging off this story with blame on the victim for, “being somewhere she should not have been,” and, “doing something she should not have done,” based on this leading and conclusive fact pattern.

Let me take this moment to be clear, I do not endorse any road users to take the minimum measures necessary to safely use the road. Any and every road user is vulnerable, especially cyclists. I encourage everyone to take the measures necessary to increase the safety of one’s self and surroundings no matter what one’s mode of transportation. That said, yes, we as cyclists may have a headwind against us in the Court of Public Opinion thanks to reporting like this, but there is reason to hope. After all, it is reporting like this that inspired collectives such as Bike Law to sprout up a nation-wide network and dig in against this trend.

By Jeff Perkins, Law Clerk at Freeman Kevenides

Comments

Ash Our Streets
Daniel Brazil Jan 13, 2021

As a Minneapolis-based attorney, I live, work, play and bike in the city. Although my city might be known for its lakes and our infamous Juicy Lucy, Minneapolis’ dedication to having safer streets for all should be included in that list. To reach the safe streets goal, numerous non-profit organizations and groups are working tirelessly […]

Read More
Ambassador
Rachael Maney Jan 11, 2021

Applications for the Bike Law Foundation Ambassador Program are now live. CLICK HERE FOR THE APPLICATION. The deadline to apply is Sunday, January 24th. Those selected will be notified on or before February 1. Thanks for your support and willingness to work together to make bicycling safer for all. We are committed to you, to one another, and […]

Read More
3-foot passing close call
Charlie Thomas Jan 11, 2021

It happens all the time: Someone emails me video footage, clearly showing they were biking along when a car buzzes past, coming within inches of a horrible crash — and there’s nothing I can do about it because we don’t have the laws in place to do something to help. Luckily, that might be about […]

Read More
killing cyclist bike law
Rachael Maney Dec 22, 2020

BIKE LAW ANNOUNCES THE INDICTMENT OF CARL BEHLER FOR KILLING CYCLIST AND INJURING OTHERS   Today, Carl Behler appeared in court for the first time for killing cyclist Arthur Carter and injuring others. He was indicted on Friday (12/18) by the Anne Arundel County Grand Jury and promptly arrested and detained for 7 crimes related […]

Read More
Bicycle Mayor
Bruce Hagen Dec 03, 2020

When I (Maria of Bike Law Georgia) called Pattie Baker, the first Metro Atlanta Bicycle Mayor, she was trudging through marshland on her bicycle on Alpharetta’s Big Creek Greenway. I pictured her in my mind with her bike, wearing her signature skirts, and mud on her sandals. Always on the go, the newly minted Metro […]

Read More
Alabama Bike Advocacy
Danny Feldman Dec 02, 2020

When Alabama bike advocate Jamie Miernik was growing up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, she dreamed of being an astronaut.  And today, although she is not an astronaut, as a chemical engineer who worked for Boeing on the NASA space station project, she put her knowledge and talents to use keeping the astronauts safe and sound in […]

Read More
Local bike shop Atlanta Bike Shop Mechanic
Bruce Hagen Nov 06, 2020

We have so many amazing local bike shops in the Atlanta Metro Area and in Georgia that it’s hard to single out any for the service that they provide, but here’s a short list of some of the shops from various parts of town and throughout the state. Eight Great Local Bike Shops in Georgia […]

Read More
Justice Ginsberg Bike Law
Lauri Boxer-Macomber Nov 03, 2020

Last month after Justice Ginsberg passed away, I went on one of those long solo rides to pedal things out.  I was hoping that time in the saddle would help settle the emotional torrent within me.  On one hand, I was feeling driven, empowered, and more motivated than ever to step things up a notch […]

Read More
Women on Bikes Rachael
Peter Wilborn Oct 11, 2020

Rachael Maney is the Director of the Bike Law Network and of the non-profit Bike Law Foundation. As most of you know, she has spent the last two weeks on these pages profiling 16 Women on Bikes leading up to yesterday’s inaugural Women’s Cycling Day. If you haven’t yet, read her profiles of and conversations with […]

Read More
Load More