Government, Safety, Transportation

Anti-harassment regulations fight real dangers

Photo from Bike Ridr

Photo from Bike Ridr

As bicycling use has exploded in the last few years around the Bay Area, animus between drivers and bikers has flared. Of course, while bikers can get upset at drivers, bikers typically can’t threaten the life of a driver. Drivers, by using the vehicle in reckless ways, can, and laws are starting to catch up to the real dangers of harassment with a vehicle. Though such anti-harassment laws have been passed in a number of cities and counties around the Bay Area, sometimes they can’t come soon enough.

John Murphy, writer of Holier than You Blog, had first-hand experience with such aggressive and negligent driving yesterday near his home in Healdsburg, Sonoma.

The video, if you didn’t watch, showed a driving rolling through a stop sign before nearly turning into John. After John quickly stopped to avoid a crash, the driver sped off. Incensed, John followed the driver to a stop sign to find out why she nearly intentionally hit him. It’s hard to hear, but when John asked, she replied, “I did it to pay you back.” It’s unclear what wrong he committed, but even if there was a wrong this attitude is unacceptable.

Cars are a particularly dangerous piece of machinery. While they can be wonderful tools for transportation, they can easily injure or kill when used improperly. Brandishing anything like a weapon is generally seen as bad behavior, but brandishing a car like that in a chaotic traffic environment is incredibly irresponsible.

On Tuesday, Sonoma County adopted an anti-harassment ordinance designed to deter harassment. It’s now illegal to physically or verbally assault or attempt to assault a bicyclist or pedestrian; try to force a bicyclist off the road; or try to distract a bicyclist. Had John’s encounter occurred in unincorporated Sonoma rather than Healdsburg, it likely would have given him the right to take the driver to court. Healdsburg won’t consider its anti-harassment ordinance until May 6, but it will offer similar protections.

Some drivers complain rules like this target marginalize them or treat them unfairly, but incidents from around the county and around the country show harassment is very real. Governments have a responsibility to their citizens to keep vulnerable road users safe and a responsibility to taxpayers to promote bicycling as the clean, cheap, and healthy mode of transportation that it is. The best way to do that is with anti-harassment laws, and they can’t come soon enough.

Written by David Edmondson

David Edmondson

David is a native Marinite working in Washington, DC. He writes about how to apply smart-growth and urbanist thinking to the low-density towns of his home.

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