In the above video, a motorist passes a group of bicyclists with just inches to spare. The Georgia bicyclist who is buzzed reacts angrily. Who can blame him?
Many of the 10,000 bicyclists who have watched that YouTube video have probably had a similar reaction. But I am happy to report that fellow Georgia Bike Law attorney Ken Rosskopf and I were able to turn this incident into something positive. We used the moment to raise awareness of bicyclists’ rights and, in the process, we brought about meaningful change for the entire community, including bicyclists and the local police department.
A Close Call and A Call to the Police Chief
The YouTube video shows a motorist narrowly missing a cyclist who was lawfully riding in the road in Milton, Georgia. The bicyclists in the video were riding two abreast, which is allowed under Georgia law (O.C.G.A. Sec. 40-6-294).
As you can see in the video, a passing car buzzes the cyclists with far less than the three feet, the minimum distance required to pass a bike in Georgia (O.C.G.A. Sec. 40-6-56). The passing vehicle also passed the cyclists despite a car coming from the opposite direction, which was not just potentially deadly to the cyclists but to the other drivers.
Most importantly, the passing vehicle wasn’t just any car — it was a City of Milton police vehicle being driven by a police officer on duty.
The video was posted online and the outcry was immediate. Not shying away from responsibility, the City of Milton Police Chief Steven Krokoff immediately issued a statement that both took ownership of the incident and promised change:
“Thank you for bringing this to our attention. It is imperative that our officers lead by example and this is not setting a good example. We will address the issue with the officer in question and retrain on GA Code 40-6-56, commonly known as The Three Foot Law. The Milton Police Department apologizes to the community for this instance of poor judgment.”
Seizing the Opportunity for Bike Law Training
Seizing the opportunity to see if the chief meant what he said, I contacted him to offer my assistance in providing training to his officers. I received a warm response in return. The chief made it clear he was not going to shy away from his commitment.
The chief and I immediately scheduled four one-hour training sessions. The picture above shows fellow Bike Law Georgia attorney Ken Rosskopf (seated, front) and me during one of those sessions. We made sure that the entire police department was informed on bicyclists’ rights. We covered not just rights but cyclists’ responsibilities as well. We helped the officers understand what it means and feels like to be a person on a bike.
Ken and I spent a significant amount of time training the officers on how to investigate crashes involving people on bikes, and how to look at physical damage on bicycles to help determine the cause of a crash.
We also spent a fair amount of time listening to complaints that the officers had about bad behavior by people on bicycles, which is a source of frustration for them. We reminded them that ALL bicyclists can’t be judged by the behavior of a few lawbreakers any more than you can stereotype ALL motorists based on the behavior of a couple of scofflaw motorists. We emphasized fairness in their approach to bicyclists’ rights, and we were met with a great response.
In addition to presenting our own materials, Ken and I shared a state-approved educational presentation from “Georgia Bikes!” That advocacy group supports bicycle safety throughout Georgia.
Leaving A Lasting Impression
There’s no doubt that the entire exchange of ideas was helpful and made a lasting impression on the officers. That’s not to say that there won’t be other mishaps in the future, but the solution to any problem starts with understanding of what that problem is. We did our best to make sure that the City of Milton Police Department has a very clear understanding of the laws that protect people on bikes and the very real challenges that we face every day on the road.
Too often it takes a catastrophic event such as a death or severe injury to bring a dangerous practice to light and effect meaningful change. In this case, a short but powerful video clip made all the difference. It opened the door to a meaningful dialogue between our local law enforcement officials and the cycling community. Thank you to Chief Steven Krokoff and Lt. Charles Barstow for facilitating this great event.
Bike Law Attorneys At Your Riding Group
If you would like Bike Law to come speak to your local law enforcement or riding group, please contact us by emailing Bruce@BikeLaw.com
Bruce Hagan’s cyclist law firm is fully committed to representing Georgia bicyclists. “All of our attorneys and most of the staff are full-time riders,” he says. Bruce has handled hundreds of bike crash cases and actively helps bicyclists understand Georgia’s bike laws.