video

Lumber Truck Driver Cited with Careless Driving As Result of Cyclist's Video

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.

3 Feet State Law.jpg

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.

Actual signage in Boulder County thanks to Cyclists4Community and Boulder County Government

Actual signage in Boulder County thanks to Cyclists4Community and Boulder County Government

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.

IMG_5687.jpg

Check out our blog post for more information on crossing the centerline to pass a cyclist.

You can also get some of our 3-foot law stickers by sending a request with your address to connect@hottmanlawoffice.com.

"I wasn't hit, but I was {harassed/yelled at/honked at/buzzed/menaced/threatened/ ____}... what can I do!?"

The truth is, being harassed, buzzed (passed so closely from behind, that the hair stands up on your arm and neck), yelled at, incessantly honked at, had objects thrown at you (beer bottles and fireworks among the most common), or any other variety of these types of behaviors, is REALLY, REALLY SCARY to a cyclist out riding their bike.  Some days it feels like motorists see a cyclist as the "dog they want to kick" after a bad day - when they take out their life's frustrations and anger and unhappiness on us - as we sit there next to them in the bike lane, or to the right side of their car on the roadway, just trying to get to or from our home or office, just minding our own business ...we are vulnerable and often unaware until the venom is directed our way. And man, is it unsettling.

Does this outweigh our true love and enjoyment of cycling?  HELL NO!  But do we need to discuss this?  Yep!  

At least weekly, I receive a text, email or message, such as the 3 texts below, received from friends within the past few weeks:

FullSizeRender.jpg
FullSizeRender.jpg
FullSizeRender.jpg

 

So - what can you do?  Many folks choose to vent their experiences on social media, and while it feels really good to get the support of your community in response, the reality is that these posts don't do anything to solve the actual problem.  Instead, here are my suggestions for actual conduct - actual response - actual behavior - which we hope can begin to curb these behaviors.  At the very least, they serve the purpose of tracking these motorists and notifying authorities, in the event this person ends up threatening or hitting or killing a cyclist in the future.  

Does it take time and effort to report these motorists?  Yes.  Is it time well spent if you felt threatened?  Yes.  Authorities cannot take action with social media posts/vents (and they won't). Save the information below in your phone for future use:

1) Call Colorado State Patrol Aggressive Driver hotline (or your state's equivalent).  Here, it's *277 (*CSP) on your phone.  The hotline has been approved for use by motorists to report drunk or erratic drivers, AND it's been approved for use by cyclists to report motorist aggression.  They will want license plate numbers, vehicle description, driver description - as much info as you can provide (video or cell phone photos are a bonus!).  

CSP claims that it collects this information and once a driver has been reported 3 times, will visit the driver AND issue a citation where appropriate.  This is something well worth your time.  

2) Call your local law enforcement authority (especially if this happens within a City).  You can simply call 911 if you don't know it, and ask the dispatch to connect you to the local jurisdiction NON-emergent line.  Take the time to give them your statement, all of the information you collected, and they may even ask you to remain on scene so they can come and take your statement in person.  I've seen some local authorities then contact the motorist, if still in the area, or attempt to locate them to have a discussion and/or issue a warning or ticket if they feel it is warranted.  

3) When you get home, visit the Close Call Database, and enter all information in that you can.  This is not a law enforcement website - it is privately run by a cool guy named Ernest, who is doing his best to collect this information, and if you sign up for it (free) via strava, you'll also get notifications when other riders update the database concerning incidents in your area.  The mission is also to gather information about repeat offenders in the hopes that information can then be provided in comprehensive form to law enforcement.  

4) If you do believe that sharing the photos of the vehicle/driver/license plates will serve your social media circles, feel free to post them as a general "heads up" to your friends.  I have seen these posts come full circle, where someone else knew the person in the photos and sometimes those ties result in good outcomes.  (For example the driver is mortified to learn that their boss' best friend saw a post about them harassing a cyclist on FB).  

Finally - you've heard me preach this before, but camera footage makes documenting these incidents even easier, and makes law enforcement's job easier as well, if the video clearly shows the license plates, vehicle, and driver... identification becomes less of an issue and videos don't lie.  Be Proactive.  Don't just vent online.  Make the calls above.  It matters! 

BLOG ADDITION (8/7/17): I sought some input from one of my most trusted law enforcement resources and he's given me permission to share his email here: 

I agree with you Megan. When a cyclist feels threatened, harassed, or endangered they should report it to the law enforcement agency with jurisdiction. That itself can be a challenge – municipalities are pretty clear cut – but on roads in the unincorporated areas it could be the Colorado State Patrol or County Sheriff. Every situation is different and the outcome will vary depending on the facts. The more evidence you have the better result of the outcome. In other words if you have video clearly showing the location, vehicle description, license plate, driver, etc. it is much easier for the officer/deputy to take action – whether it be educating the driver, summons, etc. Even if you don’t have video it shouldn’t preclude you from calling – just remember it’s your word against theirs. Just be aware if we do write a summons there is the potential for you to be called as a witness in court. While it is our job to sort through the stories, it can be difficult and/or impossible, to determine the facts in some cases. I can’t promise every deputy or officer will respond in a manner that you want but I can tell you in Boulder County we are working hard to move the needle to reduce the tension (or maybe better said in a Boulder way – increase the harmony) between cyclists and motorists.

Megan mentions the Close Call Database and I encourage you to use it either when you don’t have enough information to file a report or even when you have a police report filed so the data can be collected there as well. Ernest is doing awesome work in this arena and we all need to support it. I’m also aware the City of Boulder has a similar database for reporting close calls. And while posting to social media feels good at the time it is usually not productive in educating the violators. Also key to remember everything you post is eternal.

Now, It sounds like I’m pro-cyclist and you should call on every aggressive motorists right? Well I am a road cyclist but also a motorist. I give the same speech to the motorists about cyclists who violate the law. We are supposed to share the road – so it’s a two way street. I tell motorists to call and report unsafe or illegal cyclists as well. I encourage you to self-police your fellow cyclists when you see them break a law. This weekend I was riding up to Carter and a cyclist blew through the one-way section against a red light. Bad enough, right – but he literally rode past 6 or 7 motorists patiently waiting for the light to turn green. I yelled at him as he went by at 25 mph. What I should have done is follow my own advice, blown off my ride, turn around and catch up to him, and educate him on the damage he just did to our sport.

Thank you for reading.

— Commander Lance Enholm, Boulder County Sheriff’s Office