But -Plea Deal Results in Defective Vehicle Charge…
A missed opportunity for justice—that is how cyclist Jonathan Wirth feels about the plea deal offered to the driver of a tractor trailer who violated the three-foot rule. The initial charge of careless driving was dismissed in Lafayette Municipal Court. Instead, the prosecutor reached a plea deal with the defendant on the lesser charge of a defective vehicle, which is a two-point violation. “How was that justice?” asks Jonathan.
This is why our office advocates to district and city attorneys to stop offering plea deals. Both Boulder and Jefferson County DA Offices have shown their commitment to holding drivers accountable and have been getting positive results for cyclists. Find out more about how DAs in Boulder and Jefferson Counties are handling cycling cases.
Here’s what happened to Jonathan. On April 9, 2019, he was commuting to work in Boulder County when the truck driver buzzed him within twelve inches of his rear pannier, coming even closer to his left shoulder. The wind created by the truck pushed Jonathan to the left and right and eventually forced him off the road into the dirt. He was not injured but was fearful for his life and felt the driver completely disregarded his safety.
Jonathan is not new to cycling. It was not his first time on a bike or even riding this stretch of State Highway 7 (East Baseline Road) in Lafayette, CO. He used to race both road and mountain bikes and is currently a level 3 National Interscholastic Cycling Association mountain bike coach at the high school where he teaches. He understands the rules of the road and strategies to stay safe. Jonathan wears a neon yellow jacket while riding his bike and is very visible.
As Jonathan was going to work that day, the paved shoulder he was riding on ended. Before taking the lane, he looked over his shoulder and saw a tractor trailer approaching. With his left arm, Jonathan signaled a downward swinging arm motion indicating to the driver to move over into the empty left-turn lane. He even made eye contact with the driver.
Jonathan thought that the truck would move over, out of the lane, to safely pass him as all others cars had done on past rides. He was wrong—the driver came dangerously close to him. Jonathan felt like he was being pulled under the truck and was blown off the paved road. After collecting himself, Jonathan followed the truck on his bike and saw it turn into a gas station. He approached the truck while the driver was inside the station and took photos of the company logo and license plate number. He learned that the truck belonged to a wood supply transfer company located in Lafayette.
The close call was captured on Jonathan’s Cycliq6 HD tail light camera. He is very thankful that he had his camera on his bike and plans to install a front-mounted camera as well to capture traffic in front of him. Since Jonathan had video footage, he decided not to confront the driver.
Following the incident, Jonathan took action. He contacted the company and was informed that they would send the information “up the chain.” On April 10th, the next day, he went to the Lafayette Police Department and filed a police report as well. Jonathan showed Officer C. Hayford the video footage. In the incident report, Officer Hayford noted her observation of the incident from the footage as a “large semi truck with a trailer driving at a high rate of speed past Wirth.” On April 11th, Officer Hayford spoke to the driver by phone. According to the report, the driver thought that Jonathan was signaling his intention to get into the left-turn lane by sticking his left arm straight out to the side. When it became apparent that this was not the case, the driver started pulling into the left-turn lane. He told Officer Hayford that he thought he had given Jonathan enough room but also stated that he was unable to start moving into the left turn lane until he was nearly next to Jonathan due to oncoming traffic.
As the video shows, he clearly did not give Jonathan the required three feet when passing as mandated by Colorado law.
The law (C.R.S 42-4-1003 (1) (b)) states that motorists must give a bicyclist at least a three-foot separation between the right side of the driver’s vehicle, including all mirrors or other projections, and the left side of the bicyclist at all times when passing.
It is important to remember that in states where there is a 3-foot law, there is likely to be a provision that allows motorists to cross a solid double yellow centerline when passing to give cyclists the minimum required distance—as long as it is safe and clear of oncoming traffic.
If there is oncoming traffic, drivers must slow down behind the cyclist and wait to pass. Do not attempt to shoot the gap between the cyclist and the oncoming car. You must give the cyclist three feet no matter what!
Following her conversation with the driver, Officer Hayford called Jonathan and informed him that the driver had a different version of what had happened. Jonathan asked for him to be cited anyhow. The driver was summoned to appear in court.
Jonathan was willing to take a personal day from teaching to attend the court hearing and ask for his rights. As a result of the plea deal, he did not get that opportunity.
He believes cyclists should be able to ride on all Colorado state roads. Jonathan has contacted the Colorado Department of Transportation the past four years about this section of road. They are currently in the planning stage of widening it.
If you are involved in a similar situation, we encourage you to file a report with local authorities and the Close Call Database. You can sign up for free via STRAVA. You will get notifications when other riders update the database concerning incidents in your area. The mission is also to gather information about repeat offenders in hopes that information can then be provided in comprehensive form to law enforcement. You can also call the Colorado State Patrol Aggressive Driver hotline or your state’s equivalent. In Colorado, dial *277 (*CSP). The hotline has been approved for use by motorists to report drunk or erratic drivers, and it has been approved for use by cyclists to report motorist aggression.