Having commanded ownership of the road for decades, sharing it is an often unfamiliar and difficult idea for many motor vehicle operators. To now be required to share that space with people on bicycles is for some, rather difficult. Many people honestly believe bicycles don’t have the same legal rights to the roadway that cars do.
This conviction is fueled by a general unawareness and confusion about the rights and duties of operating a motor vehicle and it’s compounded by unpredictable and unsafe behavior of some bike riders. The potent mix of fear and entitlement on both sides of the windshield can sometimes ignite an explosion of anger; an explosion that often falls into one of three legal categories: harassment, menacing or assault.
Those actions are so serious that they are not traffic violations, they are crimes.
(Illustration by Dan Pegoda/Animated Traffic Law Center for BikePortland.org)
A person commits the crime of harassment (ORS 166.065) if they intentionally subject you to, “offensive physical contact” or by, “Publicly insulting such other person by abusive words or gestures in a manner intended and likely to provoke a violent response.”
Menacing is defined in ORS 163.190. A Class A Misdemeanor, Oregon law says,
“A person commits the crime of menacing if by word or conduct the person intentionally attempts to place another person in fear of imminent serious physical injury.”
Someone yelling threats at you or swerving in your direction would definitely fall into this category.
Assault in the fourth degree, ORS 163.160, is more serious. It applies when someone actually crosses the line (literally and figuratively in the case of traffic interactions) and physical injury results.
If you think of these laws as people they might resemble something like the following:
Harassment is a punk. This is a person who will spit on you or hit you with something. He may purposely bump into you as he walks by. He might even poke you in the chest while giving you a lecture about where you’re supposed to operate your vehicle. He doesn’t physically injure you; he just annoys the heck out of you.
Menacing is the hothead. This is the guy with a violent temper and a mean mouth. This is the guy who threatens to harm you with his fists, a club or a vehicle.
Assault in the fourth degree is the thug. This is the guy who actually crosses the line and causes you physical injury.
As we’ve seen play out time and time again, when these situations occur, they can easily escalate. If you find yourself in this position, you’ll need more than legal advice to get out of it smoothly. Below are some basic pointers for what to do if it happens to you.
Instead of rising to the emotional pitch of the situation, protect yourself by disengaging. It’s better to focus your energy on a positive outcome.
Use that energy to collect as much evidence as possible. Get a good look at the driver, write down their license plate number and note the year, make and model of the vehicle.
Obtain the names and numbers of witnesses. Think evidence; and the more, the better. Use your cell phone to take pictures and audio. Above all, don’t participate in the other person’s rage. There’s too much raw emotion to be heard sensibly about your rights and the need to respect them (trying to give someone a lesson in Oregon law during when tempers are high isn’t very effective).
Call 911 and report that a crime has been committed. If the police respond to your call, the driver may be arrested. If the police don’t arrive, take advantage of Oregon’s Citizen Prosecution Statute (ORS 153.058) and issue the person a traffic citation yourself for any traffic laws that may have been violated. (If you need help with the process, contact the Bicycle Transportation Alliance or contact the local law firm that wrote the book (literally) on the topic, Swanson, Thomas and Coon.)
Keep in mind that to have the law on your side, you must be operating your bicycle legally on the roadway. Knowing the law and abiding by it is invaluable when victim to another vehicle operator whose intent is to intimidate or bully you.
— Bike Law 101 appears twice a month on BikePortland. It’s written by Karen Lally and Kurt Jansen of the non-profit Animated Traffic Law Center based in Eugene, Oregon. For more info on bike law, browse the Bike Law 101 archives. If your company or organization would like to sponsor this column, please get in touch.
NOTE: I realize this post is not displaying properly. Sorry. I hope to have it fixed soon.
i was actually wondering about this recently. thanks for this article.
Anybody had any positive experience with getting any non-contact harassment of menacing enforced? I get yelled at and from time to time, but i usually assume nothing would happen if i reported it anyhow. Maybe i’m being too cynical, but I doubt it.
* or menacing
Unfortunately, calling 911 to report a crime only works in theory. I’ve had several altercations with drivers where I tried this route, and every time the police blow me off. One time even telling me the person lived way out in Oregon City so wouldn’t be worth it to make a report. This was after she tried to run me over twice while I was legally in my lane.
I’m not saying I deserve special treatment, I’d settle for just the same treatment as any other road user.
I called 911 after an altercation in which a motor vehicle driver actually pushed me to the ground. They asked me if he was still there, I told them the driver was pulling out of the parking lot, at that point the 911 operator advised me I was not in imminent danger and to call the local non-emergency police number, which he didn’t give me before hanging up.
I had to use 411 to get the non-emergency number for where I was (waaaaay out east close to Sandy), but with my fuzzy memory (too many head injuries have left me without a short-term memory for the most part), I couldn’t provide anything except for a lame description of the vehicle.
Had the 911 operator taken my call, I could have given a full description of the vehicle, vehicle operator, and exactly what happened. But since I had to wait on hold for the non-emergency operator, I forgot many of the details.
This has tainted my faith in calling 911, mostly useless unless you’re lying on the ground with blood spurting out of your ears.
Thanks for this… I find the best way to deal is to smile and wave when someone is harassing me. Escalating by flipping someone off, yelling back, spitting on a car is a quick way to get run over if the wrong person is behind the wheel. I learned that lesson the hard way when I was younger and less mature. Be safe.
This is lovely, but sometimes focusing on a positive outcome won’t defuse the situation. If needed, unclip from your bike and prepare to defend yourself. Try not to use U-locks, pumps, etc. because the responding officers may not look favorably on the person using a weapon. Basically, try to defuse the situation. If that doesn’t work, try to leave. If that doesn’t seem like a possibility, kick some ass… or at least attempt not to get your ass kicked.
These crimes also have close analogues in tort, so in situations where the police will not help you (hello, PPB), you can often exercise your own legal remedy. But I guess you don’t get that kind of insight when you have people from a non-profit organization trying to practice law.
The second part of fight/flight response is FLIGHT. We’re animals, and if someone is starting a fight, your best option is to RUN.
When I’ve been in a situation where an angry driver gets out of the car to “discuss” the situation, I find it best to keep my bike between myself and him. As I would with a bad dog, I would use the bike to defend myself if it came to that (and it never has so far).
1. People that ‘honestly believe’ cyclists don’t have the same legal rights on the roadway as motorists do need to have their license suspended and attend a remedial drivers ed course before they get it back.
2. The unpredictable and unsafe behavior of some cyclists is only exceeded by the unpredictable and much more unsafe behavior of the vast majority of motorists.
3. Realistically, how many arrests and convictions of motorists have there been for harassment, menacing and assault against cyclists? Relatively few. Why? Because most cops and judges identify as motorists, are biased against cyclists, and don’t actually know the relevant laws that apply.
Whoever is writing this series for the Animated Traffic Law Center needs to grow a pair and start recognizing and acknowledging that bias and discrimination against cyclists is perpetuated not only by motorists, but by the legal system from top to bottom as well.
The last point, about anti-bicyclist bias in the legal system, is a very important practical point for anyone who seeks legal help for these issues. IMHO, this is something that deserves further attention from intrepid journalists like Mr Maus and is deserving of mention in this piece.
I am a cyclist and I think that my fellow cyclist break the laws and ride unpredictably far more than motorists. I would say that the majority of motorists that are at fault are so because of inattentiveness. Motorists however often unaware of cyclists usually follow the rules of the road. And I don’t think “growing a pair” has anything to do with writing laws for cyclists.
No, growing a pair has to do with their attitude that the law is fair and unbiased.
Have you ever observed and counted the motorists that run red lights, speed, fail to yield to pedestrians, change lanes or turn without signalling? All of these motorist behaviors are quite common, add distractions to the list and you have a recipe for disaster.
A cyclist acting ‘unpredictably’ is far less of a hazard to other road users than a motorist who doesn’t obey the rules, and I’d submit that most ‘unpredictable’ cyclist behavior is actually legal and justified; for example, avoiding road hazards that don’t affect motor vehicles but could be devastating if you hit them on your bicycle.
I don’t have a radar gun, so I can’t say anything about speeding, but working downtown I absolutely see more cyclists run red lights that I see cars run red lights.
“I don’t have a radar gun”
Bingo. Neither do most people so there’s an inherent bias in the methodology of determining who is the scofflaw.
Most cyclists and most motorists both exploit the advantages of their respective modes. Cyclists (enjoying increased visibility, hearing, and maneuverability) get all the grief because running a stop light or sign is easily discernible. Drivers (the power to speed at will) will, get this, speed. Problem is you really can’t see it. You don’t KNOW that someone is speeding.
The bias is enshrined right into law enforcement. The photo radar vans won’t even ticket a driver unless he/she is going at least 11mph over the speed limit. In my discussions with numerous traffic cops and folks at PBOT, most cops won’t even ticket until the driver is doing 11-14 over the limit. Why? Because drivers fight the tickets (entitlement anyone?) and get this, the judges tend to let them off if they aren’t over that 11mph threshold. That costs the traffic division money, hardly motivating them to change their ways.
Drive down Hawthorne (25mph) someday and DO THE LIMIT. You’ll get tailgated and passed constantly. Speeding is simply regarded as normal, like gravity. Yet somehow it’s all about the scofflaw cyclists.
Tell me, who’s doing the killing out there? Heck, when a cyclist kills someone it makes national news.
The alleged masses of law abiding drivers beset by the evil law breaking cyclists; an absolute and total crock.
(And I didn’t even bring up the massive flaunting of Oregon’s crosswalk law)
often this is because you notice bikes doing so and not cars. Its a issue of all to often the brain will observe the things its asked to do. If you look at an intersection with the idea that that is reinforced into the subconscious to look for. Try switching to a mode of red cars at intersections and you will suddenly observe more red cars running the amber/red or using a mobile.
I don’t disagree, but there unfortunately too many cyclists that act out of line and frequently yell at motorists making the situation worse. I just got yelled at last week for going around a cyclist on Sandy Blvd (I guess I only gave him about 4 feet of clearance). Pretty absurd outburst. I ride daily and consistently am amazed at many cyclists willing to “take on” a car or truck to prove a point – take on in the sense of not yielding even though the cyclist is correct or has the right of way. The power and weight difference is pretty obvious between a bike and car… I just don’t want anymore people getting killed bacause they ride a bike. This type of change in attitude for drivers will take time and PDX is pretty unique as we are so far ahead of 90% of the country.
I find most motorists behavior to be quite predictable. Most (if not all) actually TRY to stop at STOP signs. It sickens me every time I see a cyclist COMPLETELY ignore a stop sign. I personally think we should adopt Idaho stop laws, but until then, can’t we all take a few seconds to stop at the friggan sign. IMO those that don’t, make me look like a hooligan, and I’m not. I’m soooo sick of it, when I’m walking down the road, I’ll call the non-stoppers out, and half the time they say they’re sorry. Follow the GD law for whatever gods sake!!!
Traffic laws do not exist to protect you. They exist to generate revenue for the area that they are enforced. If money is on the minus side and not the plus, nothing will get done. Do not trust paint lines. Do not trust police or city official to help you on a case by case basis (votes are a type of currency too). Trust only that if you are on the roads, the check is in the mail. You will get hit, harrassed, ticketed, and more. The best way to deal with all of these is to know they are coming and not be surprised. That way you maximize your potential to think clearly. Protect yourself. When it comes down to it, you’re probably the only one who cares about your safety.
There is another level of harassment below those mentioned in the article, one that nevertheless threatens to escalate. This is the harangue, informing you that you should not take the lane (when reasonable), that you should move over so as not to inconvenience drivers, that (by implication) you should ride so far over, or so unobtrusively, that essentially you should not be on the road at all. I was subjected to this last year in, of all places, Portland.
This is perhaps a kind of harassment as difficult to deal with as the more overtly violent sort because the tone is menacing and angry, and there is still a suggestion of violence. I did my best to defuse it in this case by informing the hothead that I was from out of town (naming my town in PA) and that I apparently did not fully understand the intricacies of the road laws in Portland (which he claimed to be defending). The driver in his BMW roared off, perhaps a bit puzzled by my line of defense. I didn’t see any other way of handling the situation. As he pulled away I gazed wistfully at his Oregon license plate.
it is not always easy to get a plate when stuff is unfolding. not everyone has a camera in a cell phone or whatever. i have never had a meaningful response from calling the police in portland.
[aside. back in st. louis i did get an officer to respond when i was run off the road, and i actually did get a plate, but he said they would not be able to prove who was driving, etc. at least in missouri they had a system set up by MoBikeFed, the local equivalent of BTA where you could report a plate and they could retrieve a record from DMV and actually send the guy a letter saying, y’know, you might not be aware that cyclists have a right to be on the road.]
what i sometimes do is phone in a report that the guy appears to be drunk. if they bother to stop him, then (a) at least he got a little retribution and (b) hey, maybe he actually is drunk and they take him in.
something i have not yet tried is to follow the guy down to where he parks and walks away from the vehicle and then let the air out of at least one of his tires. maybe also take out the valve stem.
“maybe also take out the valve stem.”
I know you’re kidding and I think you just mean the Schrader core, but I can’t help giggling when I picture the AAA guy finding a Presta sticking up from the rim with the flat.
i do carry a core remover. have not used it on an automobile tire yet.
I’ve used those last two techniques. If you say you’ve witnessed a driver that seems to be intoxicated they will absolutely pull them over. I was pulled over on I-84 driving a cargo van with mountain bikes on top into strong Chinook winds. I had noticed the officer following me for quite a distance and thought it unusual since I was barely able to keep the van at 50. He said I was called in and he figured the people were from out of town and I clearly wasn’t drunk just being able to stay in my lane (those winds are brutal), but he had to pull me over since it was called in. No sobriety test; he was satisfied just talking to me (plus it was pouring rain sideways on him).
The valve stems came off a lady’s really nice Lexus SUV after she right-hooked me pulling into her condo complex down the street from my house. I rode in with her (had no choice since she sent me in that direction) and politely said “your right blinker was out when you almost hit me back there – I think they’ll replace that for free if you have it checked out.” If she hadn’t replied by telling me to f off and walking away she wouldn’t have been late to work the next morning. Entirely inappropriate vandalism on my part and I don’t condone it. Whatsoever.
When I called 911 on a driver who was texting and nearly hit me (and also another rider up the road from me, after the next light where I caught their plate) I simply said they were driving erratically and *may* be intoxicated (I also didn’t say I was on a bike). Several miles down the road I caught up with a sheriff writing them a ticket (I assume they were caught with the phone in hand – this was in California where I live now and *everyone* is attached to their phone). I simply rode by nonchalantly.
True it’s often hard to catch a plate, but one time I was right-hooked (again Beaverton) and got in a yelling match with a guy who drove after me. I rode into a parking lot where people were eating outside (McMen’s on Murray/Allen), and I addressed him back using his license plate number. He was a bit dumbfounded, but he threatened to beat me and got out of his truck, so I pulled out the phone and asked if I should call my lawyer first or the cops, that I’d gladly take what he could dish (I grew up on the streets of Boston and am 6’4″, 190 lbs – he was about 5’6″ and I suspect drunk). When he saw the phone he jumped back in and took off. I also let my hand off the brake and started rolling away (downhill). While I wasn’t afraid of an altercation with him, I figured I’d be in as big a trouble as he if I had to defend myself. When cops show up all they see is two guys fighting…
Ride safe, keep your wits, and recite those plate numbers aloud!
I, too, will report drivers as possible DUI if I am harassed. Police seem to pay attention to suspected DUI.
If you get hit by a driver not aware of you the fault is with the cyclist for percieving any type of safe zone. The lady who was killed by the truck on interstate some time back was in the bike lane and wearing flourescent green from head to toe.
Only the cyclist can create safety for themselves through awareness and it is still a tenuous safety at best.
I’ve found that taking the lesser traveled roads the confrontations I have with drivers has decreased. Maybe focusing on this would be better than what to do once in a confrontation has started.
sit in the back of the bus.
I’ve had good luck asking passers by to “Please start taking pictures!” Both times, the drivers shut up and drove off.
On a daily basis i have multiple drivers do stupid things to me, #1 being not stopping at bike crossings with signals, #2 being cut me off because they have some need to get ahead of the cyclist and save a few seconds on their right turns.
I see the same things happen to other cyclists, and I’ve seen them flip out, cussing, flipping the bird, yelling obscene names at the drivers, hitting the sides of their cars. When you act like this, expect an equal reaction back from the driver, and when you get it don’t go crying about harassment.
We live in a screaming match society full of defensive people, if you can’t let things like this roll off your back you are in for a rough ride. If a driver ever accosted me, I would defend myself to the full extent of the law, but people who ride around with this “persecuted cyclist” chip on their shoulder put themselves in a lot of situations they could easily avoid.
+10 for TonyT. Those of us who use a bicycle to get around town are already past sick and tired of hearing about it from the hypocrites.
All these comments about scofflaw cyclists are old news, complete BS, and simply serve to incite flames on bikeportland. Jonathan should remove them.
What do you mean, “To *now* be required to share that space with people on bicycles… ”
When were motor vehicle operators not required to share space with people on bicycles?
i think s/he meant when there weren’t hardly no bicycles out there
I’ve had a driver pull up beside me and push me off the road heading north on broadway up towards the bridge. I got the first three letters of the license plate and a witness was right behind me. There was a cop about a block up and the witness and I stopped the cop, told him what was going on and pointed to the van that was headed up towards the bridge. His response? He said he couldn’t cross the bridge, it was out of his zone.
I’d say it’s not much of a priority for the police to cut back on menacing or harassment if they refuse to follow a guy across a bridge.
I’d say keep a cool head if you can. I forgot the three numbers of the license plate and didn’t take the cops card or number to follow up, so nothing ever happened.
Portland may have the reputation as America’s most bike-friendly city, but the facts stay otherwise. It’s actually the last place you’d suspect: LA, where you can actually enforce your rights to the road and make aggro motorists pay for their anti-social behavior.
Where’s the leadership in Portland? BTA remains clueless.
Writing a ticket as a citizen potentially makes you liable if the person is not convicted.
Among other causes of action, the driver could sue you for false imprisonment if you detained him at all in writing the ticket.
It’s a risky move.
In both CO and MN where I have lived and ridden thousands of miles commuting, I find it always the same. The cops/DA says they can do nothing about it unless they see it. My word means crap to them compared to the cagers.
I’ve also been told that if you want a better response, report the driver as a possible drunk driver. I guess that gets more attention, and your defense would be “well they were acting erratic so I reported them as drunk”. I have no idea if you’d get in trouble for reporting a drunk driver that actually turned out to be not drunk.
Yes, it’s called filing a false report, and you would get in trouble. Although it would be extremely difficult for anyone to prove you didn’t really think they were drunk. If you report a drunk driver, dispatch will take your name, so I wouldn’t make a habit of it.
Amazon sells a little mini DV recorder called a Veho for about 50 bucks. It mounts right on your helmet, records about two hours. Buy one of those; people tend to behave themselves when they are on camera, and if they don’t, you will have some good footage to put on youtube.
I sympathize with the police in many situations because it’s he said/she said – and you would be amazed how different people interpret the exact same event. Unless the driver admits to what they did, or you have witnesses AND injuries, it will end up being a huge waste of time for everyone involved to pursue charges. Walk into a police station with a DVD of you getting assaulted and file a report, with direct evidence I bet something will get done.
Plus its fun to make sweet biking vids.
I read somewhere that recording someone like that can causes it to be thrown out, as it can be argued their right to privacy was violated.
Naw, you can freely record people doing or saying anything in public.
On private property or in their homes, yeah it can get thrown out. I have heard though that you could get in trouble for putting it on youtube without blacking out their plates.
*I’m not a lawyer – but this is my understanding of the law. If you know any cases that prove me wrong, I’d like to see em.
i would agree that a person surrenders an expectation of privacy by getting out onto the roads
Yeah, police have a hard time with the he-said/she-said thing. My car was damaged during the middle of the night in a hit-and-run last year on a dead-end street that only serves an apartment complex parking lot and a few houses on the street.
When I reported it to the Washington Co. Sheriff’s Department for insurance purposes, the officer that responded said that even if I found a car in the parking lot with matching damage (their headlight was knocked out and left on the ground, and their red paint was left on my silver car) I wouldn’t be able to do anything about it because I would be able to PROVE that the car or the owner of the car actually did anything – it would be their word against mine with no way to determine the truth.
But I digress – when someone calls in with a report of being physically assaulted or intimidated with the threat of violence, it should be handled with a bit more responsiveness, I would hope. But I think the indifference is another symptom of law enforcement not having enough resources to handle everything that comes through.
you got a lazy cop on that one since cops match crash damage to hit and runs all the time
they don’t care unless someone was killed or seriously injured.
If then, they do not. Look how many times a driver gets off.
Indeed, considering how many cameras are already out there recording when you think about it – ODOT cameras, security cameras, ATM cameras, etc.
You can disengage, take notes, and call 911, but the police won’t respond. Not here in Tucson, anyway. They won’t even ask you for your phone number. I know this from personal experience.
funny how they respond when a motorist calls and complains about Critical Mass ride…
i mean the what the heck does that even mean? do we not have a right to travel on roads? if we have the right of way then why the heck would we need to yield? with all due respect your entire post reads like “car head”.
I also ride a MC at times when I am not on my bike and I can tell you, we deal with the same crap regarding having cages not give us the space, etc. we are granted as road users.
And I deal with the same crap when I am driving my car. The problem is not the medium, its the inconsiderate, self centered, oblivious people all around us.
Welcome to Amerika
It’s not illegal to ride around in security guard uniform.
Wow, wish this article had been published a few weeks ago when a driver whose passengers had been yelling and swearing at me (b/c I was in the bike lane…) later threw a glass bottle that shattered when it hit me. I took the plate # to the Corvallis police, who said there was nothing they could do. Well, next time.
I had several young kids throw tall boys of PBR at me, while i was coming west bound on hawthorne bridge. I caught up with them, and found them stopped at the light, and placed my bike in front of their car. I went to the drivers side, and told them to get out of their car, that they were under arrest. They backed up and took off around me, only to get stuck at the very next light. This time I landed a side kick into the window, and tried to open the door. This was right next to the police station, where there were several cops, who weren’t paying attention. I got chided for how I behaved, even if they were drinking + driving + assaulting bicyclists. and they said they would go looking for them.
My latest brilliant idea was to either a) wear a shirt that says something like “Cyclist is Armed” or “Cyclist Protected by Smith & Wesson,” or b) get an old leather holster, one with a flap, and wear it empty, prominently displayed, at the small of my back.
Since Oregon has open carry law, you could wear a full holster, but I have anger issues as it is…;-)
I have my CNC and have at times carried. I once got into it with a driver who got out and made threatening moves toward me until I asked him if he knew what a CNC was. The possibility was enough to have him reconsider.
So far, I’ve found reports that center around drivers bothering cyclists but nothing
about cyclists bothering drivers. I’ve noticed that cyclists have been encouraged
to flip drivers off but there is no guidance at all given to drivers who are being bothered by cyclists when they’re abiding by the law.