Originally Posted by I-Like-To-Bike
Smasha's experiences and success as a cycling informer in New Zealand may be of interest to some, but are hardly relevant to anyone who deals with this issue in the U.S.
i've spent a lot more time living in the US than NZ. overall, the difference in laws, courts, police, etc between the US and NZ is comparable to the differences between two different states, or even different cities within a state. the biggest differences are that some of the words are spelled differently ("while" in the US, "whilst" in NZ). the actual scope and substance of NZ traffic law, and how it's enforced, isn't all that different from any jurisdiction within the US.
both the US and NZ legal systems are based on british common law. both the US and NZ legal systems deal with distinctly different areas of law such as "criminal offences", "traffic offences", and "civil matters".
even within a US state, law enforcement, in both theory and practice, varies wildly from one town/city to the next. look at gun laws in NYC vs gun laws in ithica NY... or look at how police approach a domestic dispute in newark NJ, vs how they approach a domestic dispute in the adjacent towns of maplewood, bloomfield, or the nearby town of short hills.
IME, the biggest factors in whether or not law enforcement pursues a complaint is based on resources, evidence, and motivation. in some areas of the US, racially motivated crimes are not a priority (insufficient police motivation). in other areas, common assaults may be a low priority (often due to lack of evidence, but also resource issues).
as it relates to traffic law, again, this varies by jurisdiction/locale. in the US, traffic laws are mostly (but not exclusively) state-wide... but cities/towns/counties within a state enforce those laws differently (there are also federal traffic laws, but most people will never deal with them). in NZ, traffic laws are generally (but not exclusively) national, but again there are local variations in how those laws are enforced.
as a practical guide to people in any common-law country:
talk to some traffic cops and supervisors IN YOUR AREA. find out what they need to issue a ticket and pursue a prosecution. find out what they can not (and will not!) help you with.
some examples... NZ has a law requiring overtaking vehicles to operate safely and considerately. the "NZ road code" (sort of like a driving license handbook) says to give 1.5m (about 5ft) of clearance when passing a bicyclist, but the road code is not enforceable as a statute, and there's no statutory basis for 1.5m clearance. this means that police here generally do not prosecute "close passing". i've had a few prosecutions resulting from close passing, but they were pretty extreme, and often prosecuted as "careless driving" or "unsafe lane change". similarly, they can't/won't prosecute based on videos of people using phones while driving. there's a pretty high evidentiary threshold, for that... so i'm told by the police; they say that video of someone using a phone while driving, no matter how clear the video, wouldn't meet the court's satisfaction in finding someone guilty.
OTOH, if i provide video of a vehicle running/jumping a red light, police here have consistently pursued prosecutions (the local traffic cop boss calls that "crossing a line" that makes prosecution easy). cases where i can legitimately say "evasive action was required to avoid a collision
" is another area where they generally find a way to write a ticket.
part of it is NOT filing formal complaints that police can't/won't prosecute. this creates paperwork and fails to win-friends-and-influence-people. here in NZ we have a system for filing informal complaints, and that's where my close-pass and phone reports generally go. if you don't have a similar system in your area, talk to your local bike advocates group and/or police to see if they can implement something... a way to file an informal complaint and create a paper-trail, while also sending a letter to the owner of a vehicle that basically gives details of the complaint (including time and place) and advises the driver to be more careful. if it's an informal complaint relating to a bicycle, they should also include relevant sections of the state's driving handbook that covers "sharing the road" stuff. these types of complaints typically involve ZERO investigation resources: just a database, a form letter (fill in the blanks) and an envelope. (IIUC, london has a similar system for filing informal complaints, but it often does lead to investigations and prosecutions, after they review videos)
i'm told that three informal complaints against a vehicle results in a visit from the police, to discuss safe driving practices. the reports are also filed, and can be accessed by police if needed (eg, when they decide whether or not to file charges in later cases). because there's a paper trail that may be used in later cases, i also describe the driver as much as i can, eg male, white, approx 20-30 years old, with tattoos on his arms and a white mobile phone. this helps keep people accountable and preempts the "girlfriend was driving the car" alibi. needless to say, a description of the driver is also useful when filing formal complaints.
another big thing that's helpful to getting results is knowing how to write police reports. i learned how to write these types of reports when i was an EMT in NJ, but google is a good resource. basically, stick to JUST THE FACTS. if someone said something, put it in quotes (eg: DRIVER OF SUV STATED "I WILL RUN YOU THE **** OVER"). do NOT speculate as to other person's intentions or knowledge (eg, writing "DRIVER INTENTIONALLY SWERVED INTO THE BIKE LANE WHILE PASSING" will get you laughed at, because you're not psychic and you DON'T know that driver's intentions. if they swerved, write that. if they shouted something, put it in quotes. everything else is conjecture, not facts. police like THEIR conjecture, they do NOT like your conjecture - stick to the facts).
over here, there's a section of the complaint for a bird's-eye view of what happened. i just write: "N/A - SEE VIDEO". police here don't have a problem with that. drawing those diagrams is a time-consuming PITA.
one other thing that's useful, if you're not sure how bike-friendly the police are... include references that support you being on the road, your lane position, etc. i had a cop here yell at me, after filing my first complaint, that i was "riding in the middle of the road". in the US, the best references to provide to police would be state DOT bicycle handbooks, DOT driving manuals, DOT web-sites that advise cyclists to "take the lane" and stay away from the curb/gutter, etc. some cities have websites that give similar advise. this helps preempt a certain type of foolishness from police.
i hope that helps...
oh, and i just remembered that one of my complaints within the last year was not prosecuted - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHdIkR2rFl4
the police contacted the driver and spoke to her. she had a clean driving history and i'm told she was very apologetic about the incident, and presented herself as taking the issue seriously. in other words, clean record + good attitude (goes a long way when dealing with police!). she received a formal warning for failing to give-way (in the US it would be "failing to yield"). if she has any driving issues in the future, the formal warning will show up, and she's unlikely to get a 2nd warning. i'm happy enough with that.