The Vicious Cycle of Anti-Cyclist Bias

From the National Bike Summit:

4516694_92b586a5eb_o.jpgAt a panel on cyclist’s rights, Bob Mionske, a Portland, Oregon attorney and founder of Bicycle Law, offered a cogent explanation of the obstacles cyclists face when it comes to public perception, police enforcement, and holding motorists accountable for injuring and killing cyclists. "Anti-cyclist bias is endemic in the police, the court system, and the
media," he said, then described how bias in each arena reinforces bias in the others.

Mionske talked about three examples from his practice:

  • A 19 year-old cyclist stops next to a cement truck. Truck turns right and crushes her. Headline the next day reads: "Bike slams into cement truck." Police said the driver couldn’t see her, didn’t issue a ticket.
  • A rider going downhill in
    the bike lane gets crushed under the rear wheels of a right-turning garbage truck.
    Cops determined that the driver had violated the cyclist’s right-of-way,
    but he couldn’t perceive it. They didn’t issue a ticket, even though the sideview mirror was
    held together with duct tape and bungee cord. Media portrayed it as a "cars vs. bikes"
    story and ran file footage of a bicyclist on a roundabout, nothing from the scene of the crime. "It’s a feedback loop," said Mionske.
    "The message to society is: Someone died on a bike, but it was probably his
    fault."
  • A mother called, said her son was hit by an F150 truck. Son was issued
    two tickets for running a light and had $25,000 in medical bills. He had
    front lights, back lights, and a helmet at the time of the crash. On the scene, the officer asked the cyclist what happened, but the cyclist
    was in shock and couldn’t remember. News said, "Wrong way cyclist
    hits truck, driver has heart attack," but it turned out that the driver was entering a
    diabetic coma at the time of the crash. Media wasn’t interested when the case against the cyclist was
    dismissed.

"This just poisons the mind of the public, and the public is who is
empaneled in juries," said Mionske. "What you see is anti-cycling bias starts with cops, is reinforced by the media, and is perpetuated in the
courts."

"We need to keep the media accountable, and we need to talk to the police," he said. "But it starts with enforcement."

Photo: Steffe/Flickr 

Story Originally Filed by Ben Fried

  • It’s the same thing with transit. It’s always train slams into a car or bus slams into a car, never car runs a red light or a stop sign. 99% of Houston Metro’s light rail accidents are the cars fault but you’d never know it from the media reports.

  • This is a totally interesting thesis to me, and I think it has some merit. Obviously it’s not the only factor, but we do run into a lot of ignorant police in Los Angeles (I even have a very brief rant about on my blog). Still, trends in LA run contrary to this, in that in Santa Monica motorists are more tolerant of cyclists than LA motorists BUT the reverse is true of the police (even controlling for Critical Mass conflict.)

  • while i would never side with a wreckless driver, there is much that can be done to prevent things like this from happening.

    i would posit that about 2/3 of the riders i see are riding on the sidewalks, riding on the wrong side of the road, riding up the WRONG way on a bike lane, or riding without lights.

    there is much that needs to be done in the area of education. people don’t know how flippant observance of the rules can put their lives in danger.

  • geekpie

    interesting examples. In the UK last week, a woman got 4 years jail for killing a cyclist. She was going at 45mph (in a 30 zone I think) and was SMSing at the time. The interesting bit was that the cyclist had run a red light. Because of that the expectation was she would get a very light sentence, and I was gratifyingly pleased to hear she got 4 years. Maybe things are changing slightly.