Transpo. Committee Debates Cyclist Anti-Harassment Ordinance Tomorrow

A new ordinance that gives cyclists broader legal options after being harassed, assaulted or just run-down, heads to the City Council Transportation Committee for review before heading to the Full City Council tomorrow afternoon.  Bill Rosendahl has been championing such an ordinance since at least 2009, and now it seems close to becoming a reality.  If passed, this ordinance would be the first of its kind in the nation.

Photo:Bike Ridr

So what does the ordinance do?  Under current law, the only way a cyclist can recoup health-care and other costs after a crash with an automobile is to win a case in criminal court, which is nigh impossible unless either the LAPD or a group of independents witness the crash.  This ordinance lowers the burden of proof by allowing cyclists to sue in civil court which only requires that the cyclist prove the driver caused the crash.  To earn a criminal conviction, the only option under current law, the City Attorney or District Attorney has to prove not only the cause of the crash but also either intent, negligence or impairment on the part of the driver.

When the outline for this ordinance was released, Councilman Greig Smith grumped that it was “unenforceable.” However, the whole point of the law change is to make laws that exist actionable by providing a less stringent level of proof to win a case.  Cycling attorneys agree.  Howard Krepack noted that the law would be especially useful if it allowed for recovering of legal fees (it does.)  In other words, cyclists wouldn’t be on the hook for legal fees if they can make their case in court, which will attract more attorneys to bicycle law.

The new ordinance would also outlaw harassment of cyclists by vehicle drivers or causing a crash without actually touching the cyclist.  Remember that driver that wouldn’t yield and forced you in to the gutter where your tire got caught and you were forced off your bike?  That driver broke an existing law, but good luck having that case even get to court.  Under this ordinance, that driver’s actions would be actionable in civil court, and you can bring the case yourself.

However, the ordinance could use a boost in the public relations front because the media, and thus the general public, don’t understand it.  Generally, when this ordinance is discussed in the blogosphere it attracts a list of supporters.  When it moves in to more mainstream coverage, the comments read like a miniature version of the “war on cars” rhetoric heard in East Coast newspapers that happen to be owned by Rupert Murdoch.  When discussing this law with the press or car-loving friends, cyclists should remember these points:

  1. This ordinance doesn’t cost the city anything, it only makes it easier for cyclists to recoup money from those that cause a crash or otherwise endanger a cyclist
  2. This ordinance doesn’t create special rights for cyclists, it just makes it easier for cyclists to get justice after an existing law is broken.
  3. While it’s called an “anti-harassment ordinance” it will not lead to lawsuits every time a driver and cyclists exchange words.  The cyclist must be somehow endangered by the exchange and he or she would still have to collect enough evidence and witnesses to make their case.

Tomorrow’s meeting begins at 2:00 P.M. in City Hall.  Streetsblog, and apparently the LADOT Bike Blog, will be live tweeting the event.