Lawyer Ray Thomas must be very proud. Back in January I posted about a new campaign he was promoting that would take advantage of existing statutes to empower cyclists to initiate a legal process to bring motorists to justice even if the motorist wasn’t cited at the scene of the crash.
Ray published a pamphlet for cyclists called, “Pedal Power: The do-it-yourself guide to citizen initiation of violation proceedings” (full PDF here) that allowed victims of a crash to take the law into their own hands by using existing legal statutes to bring unsafe motorists to justice.
Just yesterday, the first case ever to use this process won success in court.
On September 22, 2005 Mike Reuter was hit and seriously injured by a motorist on Hawthorne and Grand. Mike was taken away by an ambulance and spent the night in the ICU. However, despite several witnesses that saw a Dodge mini-van run a red light and hit him, the motorist was not cited by the responding Police officer.
Six and a half months later, after Mike wrote a letter to the Mayor and initiated a citizen complaint, the motorist was cited and fined for running a red light.
I strongly recommend that we all educate ourselves about this process. Here are some resources and information
“Six and a half months later, after Mike wrote a letter to the Mayor and initiated a citizen complaint, the motorist was cited and fined for running a red light.”
-After sending someone to the ICU.
It’s progress I guess, but it shows how far we still have to go. The fact that I can break the law, in doing so seriously injure or kill another human being, and get “sited and fined” six months later has to be what bothers me the most about street riding. We need new laws just as much as we need the laws on the books enforced.
I agree with you Russell. We do have a long ways to go. But we can either wait for paradigm shifts and cultural intertia to change, or we can empower ourselves and continue to agitate and make things happen for ourselves.
If enough of these citizen initiations prove successful I have to think it will lead to a change in policy about enforcement. I doubt the Police or the courts want to take the time and resources of a 6 1/2 process just to cite someone for a red light violation.
We should all thank Mike for following the process and setting the precedent. This will only make this easier if we find ourselves in the same situation.
Mike – I feel for you, and hope that you are completely recovered from your accident, and are back on the bike.
Thanks again to Ray Thomas for giving cyclists the tools they need to fight for themselves. It just makes me so mad that someone could go to the ICU, and the driver wouldn’t be cited on the spot. But now, we all have a tool that can correct that injustice.
I completely agree with Russell’s comments. The main reason that drivers feel no pressure to travel safely on the road (speeding isn’t socially unacceptable) is because there is little or no punishment for drivers who endanger others. I strongly recommend that anyone who is hit or nearly hit by a driver, take any assistance that the BTA and Ray Thomas can offer. And ALWAYS write down their license plate if you can.
This reminds me of a friend of mine, who was hit on her bike while riding to work.
She was riding on the right, obeying the law, when a car turned in front of her, cutting her off, and forcing her to crash into his car. She went over his hood, and landed on the other side of the street.
Luckily, the driver was a nice guy… very apologetic, offered to call the hospital, etc. She was mostly shaken up, and declined. The driver wrote his information on a card, and gave it to her; she was so disoriented that she didn’t even think to ask.
She was less than a block from work, so she carried her (now dead) bike, and simply continued on her way. At work, her boss prevailed upon her to make a report, reminding her that even if the guy HAD offered to pay for her bike and medical bills (amazingly, he did both) that there should still be a report filed. Many times in minor cases, no one ever says anything, and the resulting data about bike vs. car accidents ends up wildly skewed. Also, we reminded her that a shaken-up and nice driver now wasn’t guaranteed to be so later.
About a half hour later, when the adrenaline had worn off and the pain had begun, the police were called, but no report was made. Rather than saying, “Well there’s nothing we can do, but we’ll take your information,” they refused to so much as write down her name. The police informed her that only if she had sat in the street and called them from the accident would she be ALLOWED to file a report.
I’d like to say that the driver was entirely commendable in this situation. He kept true to his word, paying for her ER visit when she awoke in the middle of the night, crying and so covered in bruises that she couldn’t sleep. He paid for her bike to be repaired. He even called us a couple times to check up on her.
What amazed me was the Portland Police’s absolute refusal to do ANYTHING about the matter. Once again, just in case, we took pictures of her scratches and bruises. They now serve as a reminder to her how lucky she was in the end.
I just want to take a second and thank the biking community for all the support and encouragement and ESPECIALLY Ray Thomas and all the witnesses – special thanks to Jim Fox (more info. below).
Mike Rueter and myself had recently moved out here from MN. We were excited about the “bike friendly” Portland. A couple of months into our move – this unfortunate accident happened. I received a phone call on my bike commute home from the Ambulance service that a car hit Mike.
Arriving at the hospital, the police officer approached me and informed me that it had appeared that a mini van ran a red light and hit Mike at about 30-35 mph. In the same breath he told me that not citation was given and nothing would be done.
Long story really really short…thanks to the amazing witnesses. In total 7. We were able to piece together what happened and Mike has been fighting to get things changed, armed with all the information Ray has provided. Without Ray none of this would have been possible. I would like to especially thank Jim Fox for his efforts to help us. Jim has helped us in a city that we are still new too. He has provided us with resources and encouragement; we had the privilege of meeting him yesterday at the courthouse. It was great to talk about the accident and thank him in person.
I could of lost Mike and that has changed our world. We bike different and live different.
Thank you to everyone who has helped us!
Does it work the other way around? When I see the countless cyclists without helmets, with no lights, and avoiding Stop signs… well, can motorists somehow grant them citations?
Response to Russell: You wrote, “The fact that I can break the law, in doing so seriously injure or kill another human being, and get “sited and fined” six months later has to be what bothers me the most”
The good thing is that now the cyclist can sue the motorist (and, more importantly, the motorist’s insurance company, and recover damages, including punative damages. Before this citizen-induced citatation, the insurance company could say, “F– off. It’s your word against ours, and we say our insured did nothing wrong.”
Now that our justice system has found the driver guilty of breaking the law, the driver’s insurance company is ON THE HOOK and will have to pay … (assuming the bicyclist chooses to pursue that course of action).
THAT is just ne of the tangible benfits of pursueing a citizen’s citation.
I understand the financial implications, and I do think this is progress, but there is a very long way to go. I shouldn’t have said it bitterly perhaps, but the second cup of coffee gets me a bit wound up. That being said, it is a joke that you can maim or kill with a gun and it gets you jail – with a car, it gets you a ticket.
Someone already asked, but how did this all end up for Mike Reuter? I hope he doesn’t have any long-term injuries and is back on his bike. Rochelle, mind posting the longer version? Was the driver the uninsured/underemployed variety, or are you going to be able to recoup your medical and lost wages from his insurance?
I’m sure anyone can! They just need the bicyclist to send someone to the hospital in an ambulance, seven witnesses willing to follow up with testimonies, and six and a half months to follow up on it.
The path to anywhere begins with that first small step.
Peter, go ahead and call up the police anytime you see someone riding without a helmet…and they’ll let you know that it ISN’T ILLEGAL to ride sans helmet. (unless you are under 18)
Rufus: Okay, how about without lights at night? Or not stopping at Stop signs?
(My point in raising this is that, doubtlessly, motorist aggression/ignorance about cyclists must increase… but, too, cyclist safety and law-abiding must similarly increase. I’ve been aggressively followed by cars, simply because I made the mistake of following some loony-tune cyclist ripping through stop signs, riding on the wrong side of the street, etc. It just seems as though most cyclists aren’t even aware of these things… and the police seem to do nothing about them.)
How many surveillance cameras must there be at Hawthorne & Grand? There’s at least a red light cam on Grand, i think?… anybody?
Nothing, may I repeat, NOTHING blows my cork like motorists blowing red lights.
I would like to know just what the hell it takes to get the police to do something about this very dangerous, reckless, careless, and selfish behavior.
Peter Bray, you are right that bikes should not blow lights, or stop signs, either. When this is done anywhere there is other traffic, then the riders should be just as liable for a cititaion.
However, keep in mind that the potential for injury, death, or property damage is very different for violators on bikes and motor vehicles. If we must enforce selectively, then cite the motorists.
I have some ideas for a citizen action against red light running. It would involve about 9 volunteers, 4 big signs, 4 digital cameras, a few cell phones, and walkie-talkies.
Anyone interested in helping me work on a project like this?
I am Mike Rueter, the person that was able to get the motorist a citation for running a red light and injuring me. First off I would like to thank everyone in the cycling community for helping me through this whole process.
To answer some of the questions raised previously:
Yes, I have recovered from the accident except from some lingering issues with my shoulder but this is not keeping me off my bike. I am back commuting to work almost everyday and am currently training for Pole, Pedal, Paddle and the Seattle to Portland ride.
About the driver that hit me. I was lucky enough that he had adequate insurance and his insurance company has been very cooperative up to this point. So far I have only got my bike replaced and have yet to settle on the medical, lost wages, etc. That will come later down the road.
One lesson I did learn going through this process, which is what Ray has been telling cyclists all along, is that it is very important to have good auto insurance yourself. All of these reasons are outline by Ray in ‘Pedal Power’ better than I could ever do myself.
As far as outlining all the steps I took to successful get this guy a ticket I am working with the BTA and Ray Thomas and something will be released through official channels later. I want to make sure that everything is accurate and clearly laid out before posting any of it. In the mean time if there is anyone that has questions and is currently going through the process or about to begin the process I would be more than happy to help out where I can. I was surprised at how simple it was for me anyway.
On a personal note about the Portland Police. I am not bitter at all towards the police in this matter. I have had the privilege to meet with the traffic department on a couple of occasions and I am convinced that they are doing all they can. Just like every other civic and civil organization out there they are experiencing budget cuts and have limited officers available. I also believe that they are working toward bettering their service to cyclist but they are setting the precedence because there are so many cyclists in our community. Where else in US are there such a high number of cyclist and motorist interacting with one another? I have been very impressed with Commander Sinnott of the traffic department and felt he was genuinely concerned with cyclist issues. The important thing to do now is insure that whoever takes his place is as responsive and concerned with cyclist issues as Commander Sinnott has been.
Pointing fingers at the police will not get us anywhere. If we truly want Portland to become a better and safer place to ride we need to understand the limitations of our current system and work with the Police and elected officials through organizations like the BTA to make things better. We also need to work on educating motorist and cyclist alike on the rules and regulations and the reasons for them. That way we will not have a select few on each side aggravating one anther and making the rest of us pay the price.
For the time being when an incident like mine does fall through the cracks we just need to be willing to use the tools available to us like the Citizen Initiation of Violation Proceedings to take things into our own hands. By doing this we will be highlighting that there is a problem and then steps can be taken to correct that problem.
Hey Michael (not Rueter)–can you drop me an email about your proposed red light action? eleanor dot blue at$ gmail dot com.
And Michael Rueter, good for you! I’m glad you’re okay.
Better yet, why not put it (red light action) on the shift calendar.
I would be interested in being part of the red light action. firstname.lastname@example.org
Good for you, glad you are okay!
Good news: Sean Barret had a successful result on his citizen-initiated complaint too! Here’s a post I wrote about it.