Law... What Law?

10/15/2013 11:08 am ET | Updated Dec 15, 2013

One never stops being a cyclist, even if they can't ride, or are limited (as I've been) after a horrific wreck. Not even if nearly killed. Less than two months following spine surgery No. 3, I was back on the bicycle. My wreck was caused by weather conditions that were unforeseen and beyond my control, but many are caused by the cyclist, and many more are caused by drivers. Many could be avoided, though... if law enforcement and the very courts we have actually knew the laws!

There are some very serious problems out there; however, and cyclists aren't completely without blame. Yet at times I find law enforcement even more to blame than anyone else. Why? Even they are unaware of the laws they are supposed to enforce -- for the protection of pedestrians, drivers, and cyclists.

Two and a half years ago, I was struck in a hit and run. Multiple witnesses verified that I was definitely not the one at fault -- that I had been following every law to a T, and the report reflected that. Nothing was ever done to find the driver, though. The police never followed up on any leads. In Colorado, any hit and run on cyclists (or anyone for that matter) is now a felony equivalent to a DUI hit... but law enforcement, and even most courts don't know this, and so the ones who are caught usually get off with a slap on the wrist. This happens even when the person they hit is killed.

For their own safety and for the safety of pedestrians, it is also illegal to ride on sidewalks within Denver (and many other counties and cities). Sidewalks are for pedestrians. Bicycles are vehicles, and riders are expected to follow the same laws, and have the same rights, as drivers. In addition, every driveway is an intersection. Drivers pulling out of drivers are looking for pedestrians on the sidewalk, not a much faster moving vehicle. I've never seen or heard of a cyclist being cited here for riding on the sidewalk, though... Law enforcement doesn't know the law.

If you think the roads were developed for cars, you are mistaken. Smooth roads came at the dawn of cycling, to help make cycling safer for all. In addition, we are permitted to ride two abreast, and may take the whole lane if needed for safety purposes -- of which there are many: parallel parked cars, gravel, potholes, cracks that can catch wheels, etc. All of these pose a hazard, and are often a problem in bicycle lanes, but even if there is a bike lane, we are entitled to take the full lane when necessary for safety. But law enforcement doesn't know this. So, when cyclists are hit when safety forces them into the full lane, these incidents are blamed on the cyclists, not the drivers.

Our chosen vehicle of transportation often doesn't trigger lights to change at intersections. I'm somewhat of an exception, having figured out exactly where I need to be to trigger most lights. Where I need to be is not in the bicycle lane, though, which never has any detector. I have to be right in the middle of the traffic lane. However, if my vehicle fails to trigger a light, I may treat it like a stop sign, just as drivers can, and proceed through the intersection when safe to do so. Police don't know this, though. (A side note: I really want to see more cyclists cited for blowing right through red lights, though. Those who do that give all of us a bad name -- and there are plenty of us who follow the law.)

In Colorado and more than 20 other states there are 3-foot laws -- where drivers are required to give cyclists 3 feet of room when passing, and may cross the double yellow line to do so (and do you think a driver who hits a cyclists has given them 3 feet of room? I don't think so). It generally takes less than a minute to find that safe passage. Is it all that important to risk someone's life to get somewhere a minute sooner? I don't think so. Just before my most recent surgery, a driver buzzed me directly in front of a state trooper. The trooper just sat there. Pissed off, I turned around and approached the trooper about it. Was he aware of the law? Nope, but he is now.

What do I want? Equality and safety. Ultimately, I'd love to see every driver who is caught violating the laws that pertain to cyclists, and every cyclist caught violating the laws that pertain to them, sent to a special traffic school that teaches them the laws and how they protect drivers and cyclists alike. That's a minimum... but how will it happen if law enforcement and the courts don't know the very laws they are supposed to uphold?

Get with it... everybody, but especially courts and law enforcement. If I blow through a light, cite me! If I'm reckless and not signaling lane changes or turns, cite me! However, I don't weight 2,000-plus pounds. I'm not likely to get a driver killed. Learn the laws, and when they are broken, cite the drivers, too! Get with it... learn your own laws, law enforcement!