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

Is It Illegal to Ride Your Bike on the Sidewalk bikelaw
Peter Wilborn Aug 01, 2022

The laws dictating whether you can ride your bike on the sidewalk differ depending where you live. Different states have different laws on this matter, and local ordinances also vary. Let’s take a look at the legal framework behind various state laws related to cycling on sidewalks. The laws of sidewalk-riding can be very complicated […]

Read More
Ebike crash
Bruce Hagen Apr 26, 2022

DRIVER ON METH KILLS 17 YEAR OLD BICYCLIST, BARROW COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY REFUSES TO CHARGE DRIVER WITH FELONY.   On August 23, 2020, at approximately 8:40pm, 17-year old Obianuju Osuegbu was on her way home from her summer job working at a grocery store. She had earned enough money that summer to buy herself a […]

Read More
Stop as Yield
Brian Weiss Apr 25, 2022

Finally, “Stop As Yield” (the much sought after common sense traffic law for bicyclists) is coming to Colorado in 2022, likely July 1st.   Stop as Yield, aka the “Safety Stop” After the Governor Polis signs the law and the Safety Stop becomes effective, anyone who rides a bicycle or scooter on public roads will […]

Read More
Contributory Negligence
Ann Groninger Apr 25, 2022

It took losing at trial and a long appellate process, but it ended in a blow to contributory negligence in North Carolina. We just won an appeal on a bicycle crash case that happened in 2016 and came to us in 2018. The case went to trial during the spring of 2021. Our client was […]

Read More
Bike accident on sidewalk
Ann Groninger Mar 03, 2022

At Bike Law North Carolina, we’ve seen our share of collisions between bicyclists and motorists at sidewalk intersections. Two recent cases, one which we tried and lost and the other, which settled favorably to our client, highlight the challenges, especially in North Carolina and other pure contributory negligence states (Alabama, Virginia and Maryland).   The […]

Read More
WALLER CRASH
Rachael Maney Nov 08, 2021

WALLER 6 UPDATE: November 20, 2021 The teenage son of Jason and Jennifer Arnold, who, with their permission, was operating his parents’ F-250 diesel truck when he plowed into our 6 clients while they were riding their bicycles on September 25th, 2021 in Waller, Texas, was released to his parents on Thursday afternoon (11/18/21) after […]

Read More
Atlanta Bike Crash
Peter Wilborn Oct 25, 2021

Many of you have heard about the horrific multi-victim crash from October 7, 2021, in which a Chattanooga driver brutally plowed her car into a group of 5 pedestrians as they were crossing a street, causing catastrophic and life changing injuries. In the chaotic aftermath of running a red light and almost killing an entire […]

Read More
Waller Bike Crash Carnage
Rachael Maney Oct 02, 2021

PRESS RELEASE FROM BIKE LAW’S NATIONAL DIRECTOR RACHAEL MANEY In light of the recent Waller Bike Crash in Texas, and in an effort to help untangle and unpack some of the emotionally-charged comments, questions, and inaccurate assumptions being made, we want to update you on the parts that we can share. I hope that this […]

Read More
Brother James
Peter Wilborn Sep 29, 2021

23 years ago today, the world lost my brother Jim. He was killed on his bike by an under-aged driver who blew through a red light. While the years don’t really blunt the loss, they foster gratitude for the gifts left behind. My brother blessed me with so much, but 3 things stand out:   […]

Read More
Load More