WABA Pushing Anti-Harassment/Assault of Bicyclists Bill

When we first read it, WABA had no intention of responding to Justine Whelan’s anti-cyclist rant, published by the Ballston Patch.  For the most part, the article’s content is so similar to the random blog comments we cyclists see regularly, it hardly seemed worth responding to.  But there was one interesting thing that I’d like to highlight–not for the content itself, but for what it shows about the mental state of certain bike haters.

Whelan writes:

I am SO sick of being behind some rando who thinks he’s the next Lance Armstrong in all of his official biking gear with the weird butt pants and neon outfits traveling at five miles an hour in a 35 zone.  I drive a stick shift, jerk, that too slow even for first gear.  How do I handle the situation?  I rev my engine in hopes of scaring the sheets out of the offensive biker.

The emphasis is mine, and it’s added to highlight that this behavior is assault.  Assault is, by definition, threatening or attempting to inflict offensive physical contact or bodily harm on a person that puts the person in immediate danger of, or in apprehension of, such harm or contact.  Trying to “scare the sheets” out of a cyclist by revving the engine from behind clearly counts as intentionally putting the cyclist in apprehension of harm.

Now, this isn’t about Justine Whelan’s behavior per se.  But it does provide some insight into a level of cyclist hate that most people are not willing to type up, sign, and publish.  It shows that there are motorists–seemingly normal people going about their daily business–who have such hatred for cyclists as a class of roadway users that they assault us as general practice.  Given the added power of a vehicle and an engine, Justine and those of similar mindset intentionally seek to intimidate the more vulnerable cyclist.

Sometimes it goes even further, however.

Those who follow area cycling blogs and forums have likely come across a story from “A Girl and Her Bike” about being struck repeatedly from behind while riding a Capital Bikeshare bike.  The driver struck her twice, then tried to run her over when he learned that he had picked the wrong CaBi rider to attack.

In her assessment of the driver’s rationale, she states:

I know what the driver was doing. He saw a young woman on a bicycle and thought it was be HILARIOUS to be a dick with his car. He did this because he thought there would be no consequences.

And she’s right.  Given the obvious physical differences between automobiles and bicycles, there is ample opportunity for bullying in the form of harassment, assault, and battery.  That opportunity should be curtailed by consequences for roadway bullies, but to date the imposition of consequences has been rare.

Yes, there are criminal laws against roadway assault.  But the criminal burden of proof is high, available witnesses are often scarce, and police are reluctant or unable to follow up if they did not witness the act themselves.

There is also a civil tort of assault, and a cyclist could, technically, bring a civil suit for assault.  However, bringing such a suit is likely to require an attorney and a fair bit of that attorney’s work.  But because intimidation, assault, and harassment do not often lead to big monetary damages (unless the cyclist is significantly injured or killed as a result), most victims cannot afford to pursue such cases.

The result, currently, is a situation in which harassment and assault of bicyclists goes undeterred through the legal system.  The “A Girl and Her Bike” case mentioned above is a truly rare instance in which the motorist is prosecuted–but still there will be no sentencing for his repeated, intentional assault. Thus, we need some mechanism to impose consequences on roadway bullies who harass and assault cyclists simply because those cyclists are more vulnerable.

Because we cannot change the criminal burden of proof, we need a law creating a civil right of action for assault that also provides for attorneys’ fees in order to ensure that cases can effectively be brought.  Below is a draft based on a similar bill in the City of Los Angeles.  We are at the very beginning stages of working to pass this law in the District and appreciate all support.

WABA Anti-Harassment Law (draft)

So while we cannot agree with much, if anything, in Justine Whelan’s cyclist-assault rant/admission, we can appreciate her honesty and use this as an opportunity to discuss the extent of the problem and propose a solution.

If you support this draft bill and are willing to help us work toward its passage, please SIGN HERE.  And please remember that only your generosity enables us to continue advocating for you, so please consider joining WABA or donating to support these efforts.

(Ms. Whelan’s full article can be found at http://ballston.patch.com/blog_posts/bikers-and-why-you-irk-me if you wish to bring traffic to such things.  If you don’t, you might just want to drop the editor of the Ballston Patch a line (Abigail@patch.com) and ask them to be more responsible in giving a platform to voices that treat the lives of others as a mere inconvenience.)