Sonya Ziaja, Guest Blogger
Last week, the unthinkable happened at a critical mass event in Porto Alegre, Brazil. A car came from behind the bikers, and without warning, proceeded to accelerate—plowing through dozens of cyclists, crashing through the crowd of over 100 bikes.
Local police are still investigating what happened. The driver claims that feared for his life, because he had been harassed by several bikers. The cyclists, however, insist that no one was bothering the driver. They instead say that the driver had been following the group for two blocks, when he suddenly accelerated into the bikers.
It is easy to speculate about what might have been going on for that driver. Cyclists face the wrath for motorists’ irrational rage in almost all places where cars and bikes share the road. This is especially common in places that lack widely accepted regulations and protections for bikers. The bikers of Porto Alegre have demonstrated again for us that cyclists need better protection from motorists.
Considering that all of the physical advantages in a bike versus car crash clearly go to the driver, how can we protect cyclists?
Besides creating bike lanes and public education, bicyclists have legal rights in the U.S. that can be used to protect them. Of course, a bicyclist involved in an accident sue the drivers at fault, just like any car accident. These types of actions can be used to discourage future accidents.
Additionally, new proposed regulations and laws in Los Angeles serve as a good model for protecting cyclists before an accident happens. Among the many schemes LA is considering is a proposal from the City Attorney that would create a civil cause of action for cyclists who are harassed on the road simply for being on a bicycle. In other words, if passed, if you are riding a bike and a car honked at you unnecessarily or deliberately drove dangerously close to you just to piss you off, you could sue them for “not less than $1,000, attorneys’ fees, and punitive damages”!
To protect cyclists we need not just education and infrastructure, but also laws that recognize the inherent vulnerability of cyclists to the whims of motorists.