The proposed ordinance gets its first hearing at the Public Safety Committee on 3/25/14 at 6:00 pm.  Email if you’re interested in speaking in support of this worthy ordinance

WOBO is proud to announce our partnership with Council Member Libby Schaaf’s office in introducing a new tool for bicyclists and pedestrians to defend themselves from harassment and assault.

In the ordinance, the City recognizes that bicyclists and pedestrians are harassed and assaulted simply for being bicyclists or pedestrians – and that we deserve more legal protections than what we’re afforded today. This “Vulnerable Road Users Ordinance” will allow civil suits against drivers who harass, threaten, or attack bicyclists or pedestrians.

Criminal Cases Tough to Prove
While it’s always been illegal to commit assault or battery on a bicyclist or pedestrian, it has been extremely difficult in the past for authorities to prosecute drivers. That’s because if a police officer isn’t on hand to witness the altercation, there generally isn’t enough evidence to prosecute a driver in a criminal case. Cases of attempted battery are particularly hard to prove; a bicyclist using all their skill to avoid the assaults of an out-of-control driver is left with no physical evidence that an assault took place. There are also instances where the intentionally aggressive actions of a driver may cause a crash or injury – just not with the driver that initiated it.

Civil Suits – Lowering the Burden of Proof
Civil suits, however, carry a much lower burden of proof than criminal cases. That’s because civil cases are monetary in nature and never carry any jail time. Under the new ordinance, a series of actions taken against a bicyclist are grounds for a civil suit. They are:

  1. Assaulting a vulnerable road user;
  2. Inflicting emotional distress upon a vulnerable road user (intentional distractions like aggressive horn honking, engine revving & verbal/non-verbal threats);
  3. Committing battery upon a vulnerable road user;
  4. Intentionally passing a bicyclist at an unsafe distance (3 feet, under state law);
  5. Intentionally failing to yield the right of way to a pedestrian at a crosswalk.

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In these civil suits, drivers who assault or harass vulnerable road users will be liable for:

  1. Triple the dollar amount of any resulting damages or $1,000, whichever is larger;
  2. The attorney’s fees for the plaintiff; and
  3. Any additional punitive damages awarded by a judge or jury

The second stipulation is a very important one. Explicitly covering attorneys’ fees will make it much more likely for a lawyer to take cases with comparatively small monetary damages and make vulnerable road users far more likely to pursue civil suits when they are threatened, harassed, or assaulted.

Bicyclists Have to Behave Too
The vulnerable Road Users Ordinance doesn’t just provide added protections against drivers; pedestrians harassed or assaulted by bicyclists can also bring a civil suit under this ordinance.

Doesn’t Preclude Criminal Charges
Another important point to keep in mind is that nothing in this ordinance precludes bringing criminal charges against a harassing or assaulting driver. Rather than replacing any existing laws, this ordinance provides an additional supplement to help vulnerable road users defend themselves.

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