The big Northern Nevada Law Enforcement/Cyclist Meeting was held last Tuesday at the Washoe County Sheriff’s office (actually, the jail – there were a number of nervous bicyclists joking about the meeting venue) Terry McAfee of the Nevada Bicycle Coalition and Procrastinating Pedalers did an excellent job of organizing the meeting and keeping it on track. Washoe County Sheriff Michael Haley and Reno Police Chief Michael Poehlman were there, along with about sixteen other officers representing the Washoe County sheriff, Carson City sheriff, Reno and Sparks police departments, Nevada Highway Patrol, and more.
Over fifty cyclists including members of Reno Wheelmen, Reno Bike Project, Muscle Powered, Procrastinating Pedalers, Alta Alpina, and more attended. It was standing room only in the sheriff’s briefing room.
The meeting was respectful on both sides. I was a little surprised – and gratified – at the positive and proactive stance of the law enforcement officers who attended. They had their own ideas about how bicyclist/automobile crashes could be better reported, handled and eventually, eliminated. As Sheriff Haley pointed out: “There is nothing accidental about a traffic accident. They all can be prevented.”
The main issues that emerged were “proportionality,” that is, why is it that a driver can hit a cyclist and possible seriously injure her and get off with only a small fine? The law enforcement officers agreed that it didn’t seem fair, but that they can only cite a driver for whatever he did that was against the law – an illegal left turn for example.
Reporting car-bicycle crashes was another issue. Cyclists thought their reports were not listened to, “typed, “ as Terry said, “on an invisible typewriter”.
The officers described the reporting system – and the number of officers they have to answer complaints. There are 1.2 officers per every thousand people in Reno; in Carson City, one officer for every 12,000 people! Chief Poehlman emphasized, though, that it is critical to report all instances of aggressive driving because it can help build a case against habitually aggressive drivers.
It’s important to get not only the vehicle’s license number, but a description of the driver, for the law holds the driver of a vehicle responsible for its safe operation. This is different, said Sheriff Haley, from Europe where the registered owner of the vehicle is held responsible. He said this is part of what makes European drivers better at sharing the road with bicyclists, and he suggested that eventually we might work to get the law changed to hold registered owners responsible for aggressive driving and other illegal behavior..
Other topics discussed were illegal use by drivers of designated bike lanes, increased police presence on bike commuter routes, and an educational campaign to educate both officers and the public regarding the seriousness and causes of bike-car collisions.
Towards the end of the meeting Lance Molinari of the Reno Wheelmen asked the officers, “How can we in the cycling community help you do a better job?”
In answer the Lance’s question, Chief Poehman and Sheriff Haley suggested
- A working group of cyclists and law enforcement to work on possible bill drafts for the next state legislative session, and to design and carry out a public education campaign about sharing the road.
- That all the groups in attendance survey their members about what is important in bike safety and sharing the road
- A sustained public awareness campaign, possibly with grant funding, implemented in a partnership between cyclists and law enforcement.
THE BIG GULP REVISITED
If you’re wondering how all this relates to the Big Gulp-throwing incident reported by Jeff M. on the Cycling Carson City blog on Jan 28, according to the Nevada Revised Statutes it is illegal to “throw any stone, rock, missile or any substance at any bicycle…”
If Jeff had gotten both a license plate number and a description of the driver, he could have called the Carson City Sheriff’s office, reported the incident and asked that the driver be cited. According to Sergeant Mike Cullen of the Carson City Sheriff’s Department, he could have called 911 or the main number at 887-2020. Even if he was unable to get a description of the driver, Sergeant Cullen said that if he called in the incident a report would have been taken then, as Chief Poehlman pointed out, it could have helped build an eventual case against the driver, if he ever had another traffic stop for any reason.
So what are your ideas, Muscle Powered members and others? What do you think are the main causes of bike/car crashes? What can we do to eliminate them? (besides stop riding our bikes – not an option)