Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on July 22nd, 2013 at 12:59 pm
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)
Welcome to our new legal column with Ray Thomas. Ray has been a legal resource for Portlanders (and beyond) for many years and we've used him as a source on countless stories. Now we plan to give him a greater presence on BikePortland. Disclaimer: Ray's law firm Swanson Thomas Coon & Newton, is a BikePortland advertiser. As always, I welcome your feedback either in the comments or directly via email. Thanks for reading. — Jonathan
What can you do if someone harasses you while you are riding your bike? The first and best advice is to not do anything that gets you hurt, remember what you can in order to identify the perpetrators later, and call law enforcement.
Don't Get Hurt
When someone harasses you while you are riding it is very upsetting. If the person is operating another vehicle you are in grave danger. While the traffic and criminal laws may be with the person on the bike, the laws of physics (mass and velocity) do not favor our vulnerable position on the roadway. We have no steel around us to protect us. Our vulnerability is often why bullies choose to pick on someone riding a bicycle.
"People who throw things and engage in 'rough driving' are doing it for a reason... each repeat episode makes them become further desensitized to civilized standards of moral safe behavior."
If it happens to you, disengage from the situation. Don't allow taunts or physical aggression to change your resistance to a confrontation. Remember that someone who harasses you almost certainly has less to lose than you do, or else they would not be doing it in the first place.
If you can note information for later about the driver and car or passengers like the license plate number and distinguishing features about the vehicle and occupants, do what you can. If you can take a photo without escalating the situation, an image may help to document the incident and later identify the people involved. Remember that just a license plate number may not be enough later to help law enforcement find the person, but it is a good start. Try to remember other details about the condition of the vehicle and appearances of the people.
Call out to others in the vicinity for help if you can, it causes attention that dissuades a troublemaker and may bring help. And call 911 right away (See the Oregon DMV advice page). Even the act of pulling out your cell phone to make a 911 call may be enough to end the incident.
Oregon's law of self-defense is based on a "reasonable person" standard that allows proportionate escalation of force depending on the threat. A person may use non-deadly physical force for self defense or defense of a third person from what the person reasonably believes is the "use, or imminent use, of unlawful physical force." (For more information, read Self-Defense for Bicyclists.)
Why Should I Report this To The Police?
If a harassing driver has intentionally or recklessly placed you in a position of danger or has thrown something out of a vehicle at you then it is important to report it to police. While in your case there may have been no injury, "no harm, no foul" is not a good rule when someone is using the bulk of a motor vehicle to bully another road user.
People who throw things and engage in "rough driving" (to borrow a NASCAR term) are doing it for a reason. Every time they act out they get a little thrill out of it. Unfortunately, each repeat episode makes them become further desensitized to civilized standards of moral safe behavior. In order to get the same "juice" the next time they need to escalate the danger or the fear caused, and then next time they do it the victim of their harassment may be left hurt on the side of the road and unable to call the authorities or identify the perpetrators.
Therefore, it is important to figure out where the line is between merely stupid or boorish behavior and dangerous and reckless endangerment. If it's on the reckless endangerment side of the line it is best to call the police and ask for their help in dealing with the situation. The person you save may be a future victim of their misconduct.
What if the Police Won't do Anything?
If you call the police and they can't or won't do anything then you need to consider your alternatives. You can post information about the perpetrator on blogs or forums like bikeportland.org, or call the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) to find out about current community resources for help.
Citizen Prosecution of Dangerous Drivers
You can also use the Oregon traffic court to prosecute the driver. Oregon has a little known procedure known as the Citizen Violation Prosecution (contained in ORS 153.058) that allows any citizen to use the traffic court to cite and convict a driver for a traffic violation (a "violation" is a non criminal offense, up to the level of severity of "Careless Driving"). The Statute of Limitations for initiating one of these prosecutions is six months. Follow the instructions on how to proceed in our guide to citizen prosecution of dangerous drivers or in the current edition of our free legal guide Pedal Power: A Legal Guide for Oregon Bicyclists.