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Cop stopped me today, was he right?

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Cop stopped me today, was he right?

Old 02-11-11, 10:49 AM
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iain.dalton
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Cop stopped me today, was he right?

I commute 5 miles to university on a two-lane-each-way main street in a small Utah city, speed limit 40MPH, and 30MPH in the center of town. Today a cop pulled me over.

Cop: You should ride on the side, to the right of the right lane.

Me: But that's the shoulder

Cop: It's not a shoulder, it's for parking.

(So what's it called so I can check what the traffic code says about it?)

Cop: You're going too slow, you're impeding the flow of traffic.

Me: I'm part of the flow of traffic.

Cop: But you're slowing people down. If you can't go the speed limit, you should stay out of the lane.

Me: There's room in the lane for them to pass me, they just weren't.

Cop: People are going too fast for you here. I don't want to scrape you off the street.

Me: What should I do when I get to the center of town, where cars are parked on the side?

Cop: Traffic is slow enough (people driving 35MPH, instead of 45) that you should be OK. But you are supposed to have lights and mirrors.

Me: Isn't that just for night:

Cop: The lights are, but you're supposed to have mirrors.

Me: I don't remember anything in the traffic code about mirrors, but OK.

Is it illegal or unsafe to ride in a lane when I can't go the speed limit? If I were in the area he wants me to ride, I'd be more concerned, because drivers don't scan that part of the road. If I went straight at an intersection, I'd be concerned about a driver turning right without looking. And I'll be checking the law for mention of mirrors. Maybe I should get one anyway.
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Old 02-11-11, 11:02 AM
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chandltp
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I had a similar conversation with a motorcycle cop (while moving no less) last summer. I noted the time, direction, and location of the conversation and contacted the supervisor for the department. He spoke with the officer and he assured me I wouldn't have any more trouble with the motorcycle division of the police department.

In most areas I'm aware of, what you were doing is legal and safe. In PA, it's recommended by the bicycle handbook unless the shoulder is passable. The only time I ride in parking spaces is if I have a long line of site where there are no cars parked. In the winter, I have no choice but to ride in the lane.
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Old 02-11-11, 11:08 AM
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Have a look at the guide at http://www.udot.utah.gov/main/f?p=100g:0::::V,T:,1020
Traffic laws are state-specific, but it looks like Utah, as most states, says that bikes must ride as far right as is safe/practical. No mention of mirrors in that guide (though it is dated 2009). Hope this gives you a good starting place. From what you are describing, I would not say you were at all out of line, but proving that can be difficult at best.

The question about safety is one only you can answer. I quite regularly ride solidly in the lane, especially now (winter in WI). chandltp has a good idea; contact the officer's superior. Maybe they will blow you off (I'm not familiar with the culture in your area), but repeated complaints could eventually cause some action.

Last edited by fotooutdoors; 02-11-11 at 11:14 AM. Reason: added a couple more cents
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Old 02-11-11, 11:13 AM
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Required or not, on those kind of roads, you should have a mirror and lights with front/rear flasher running at all times. Maybe if you had those he'd take you more seriously. He's right, you're gonna get left hooked if you're invisible.
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Old 02-11-11, 11:14 AM
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I have been pulled over a few times and feel that a lot of what officers say is script-like. For instance, on the two occasions I was pulled over, the mannerisms and dialogue were pretty much identical.

"You shouldn't be in the middle of the lane"

I show him rules stating I have a right to the road, I wasn't impeding traffic, the lane is substandard, and I am on a multi-lane with ample room for drivers to pass.

"Well, you can't slow down traffic."

This was very early in the morning (both times) with, again, two available lanes that are wide open for safe passing.

"It's unsafe for you. I'd advise the sidewalk."

I explain I feel safe, and regularly commute on these roads.

"Look, if it's easier I can give you a ticket."

It seems that what they do, at least here, is attempt to make you feel as if you are breaking laws. When you counter this with statutes, it's then a "safety concern." When you state you feel safe, it becomes a more threat-based exchange. Getting information is key, and bringing it up with a higher-up is great. If you somehow forget, you can always call dispatch with time, place, and unit and they will give you the information.

I would have to look at your laws, but where I am from, I am legally allowed full use of lane. Safety, I feel, is a personal issue. If you feel safe, than the officer really is pushing his own personal agenda on what his "safety" concerns are. As far as I know, mirrors aren't legally required. Being of a very small group of road-users it sometimes happens that people, including officers, have a certain prejudice against the normalcy of motor vehicle usage.
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Old 02-11-11, 11:15 AM
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Did he issue you a ticket? If so, then look up Utah's laws, you might be in the right and could fight it.

I'm guessing he didn't cite you, likely, he just wanted to give advice for that particular road. You could write it off as a cop that's really worried about you or just doesn't like cyclists.
He might have good point; I'd agree with the cop that there are roads where "impeding" traffic is legal, but just bad idea (even though as you pointed out, you might be legally part of the traffic flow). Holding up traffic in name of the law is bad PR for cyclists, IMO, because it's sparks road rage, etc., even though some purists will contend that laws should be followed to the letter.

Regarding mirrors, they likely aren't required (I dunno Utah - Colorado doesn't require) but not a bad idea. Personally, I think a mirror is a better piece of safety equipment than a helmet.

Let the flaming begin...
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Old 02-11-11, 11:23 AM
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Originally Posted by fotooutdoors View Post
Have a look at the guide at http://www.udot.utah.gov/main/f?p=100g:0::::V,T:,1020
Traffic laws are state-specific, but it looks like Utah, as most states, says that bikes must ride as far right as is safe/practical.
To go off of this, "practical" again is used in a such a way as highly personal. As the definition is "Likely to succeed or be effective in real circumstances; feasible," if you feel it is more effective to ride further center, than that would be riding practical to the right. This statute doesn't FORCE you to ride close to the curb. In my own experiences, riding closer to the middle of the lane maintains a more evasive, and spacial ride, increases passing distance, and increases visibility. I feel much more threatened when I am closer to the curb and give the illusion to drivers that they can stay in their lane while passing me with VERY little clearance. By riding closer to the center you are taking away this option.
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Old 02-11-11, 11:25 AM
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40Mph speed zone, yes you should probably stay out of the lane, 30mph zone take the lane. In my experience if you take the lane and are going considerably slower than traffic the only thing you're doing is putting yourself in danger, this mixed with the two lanes on each side. I don't think the cop or you was right more like, both a bit right and wrong but who knows, again this is all my opinion plus i live in a different state.
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Old 02-11-11, 11:50 AM
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I think there are many variables involved. My main commuting route is a 10 mile, 45MPH 6 lane stretch of road. I don't feel you put yourself at danger riding that slow as speed is not really a factor whether it is 45 or 35 MPH, you are still considered a slower vehicle. If I ever feel I am holding up traffic, it is as simple as pulling over into a gas station and waiting for the light cycle. Places are definitely going to vary. He is wrong in asserting that a shoulder is for parking and you should ride there. Where I am at, you are only required to ride in a designated bicycle lane. Non-designated zones are shoulders, and thus, not considered part of the road way. He disregards your importance by stating "You are slowing other people down." You are trying to get from point A to point B as timely and legally as everyone else. Really, it is up to you in gauging what you feel is your safest route to get from one place to another. In my opinion, he was wrong for pulling you over (except for the lights, which is required to have by law), but it is clear that he was pulling you over "for slowing down everyone else."
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Old 02-11-11, 12:46 PM
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Originally Posted by Mr IGH View Post
Required or not, on those kind of roads, you should have a mirror and lights with front/rear flasher running at all times. Maybe if you had those he'd take you more seriously. He's right, you're gonna get left hooked if you're invisible.
Is there a better way to be invisible than to ride in parking spaces? That's part of why you want to be IN the traffic lane -- other drivers EXPECT to see traffic there.
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Old 02-11-11, 12:58 PM
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Geez, you guys are awfully nice. My stock response goes something like "Either ticket me or don't because I've got places to go and things to do. Now get on with it and spare me the lecture." I get surprisingly few tickets, and I fight each and every one. I think I've paid a grand total of like $80 in fines since I started with this policy.

I don't think I've made a lot of friends on the force, though.
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Old 02-11-11, 12:58 PM
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scroca
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Originally Posted by iain.dalton View Post
... Cop: But you're slowing people down. If you can't go the speed limit, you should stay out of the lane...
I always thought the speed limit meant you weren't supposed to go faster than what is posted and that you are legally permitted to that speed if conditions are good. What's this about the speed limit being the speed you are supposed to go?
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Old 02-11-11, 01:05 PM
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Originally Posted by Mr IGH View Post
Required or not, on those kind of roads, you should have a mirror and lights with front/rear flasher running at all times. Maybe if you had those he'd take you more seriously. He's right, you're gonna get left hooked if you're invisible.
Lights, yes. High-vis clothing, yes. Mirror? Doesn't do a thing for you being visibile to drivers and won't prevent you from getting left hooked.
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Old 02-11-11, 01:06 PM
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Mr IGH
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I never said he shouldn't ride in the traffic flow. I did say OP should be more visible, OP should have lights and mirror, no matter what the law. If he had those items, the cop might be more respectful. By lacking proper equipment and riding in a situation only the most experinced cycists should attempt, OP is proving he's a fool to the cop. Cop cops attitude 'cause OP is endangering his life own life by lacking proper equipment. Cops have duty to try and save fools, it's part of the job.

OP, get a clue, you need to be more visible and aware of vehicles if you're going to ride in that kind of traffic flow. The cop may lack people skills, it doesn't negate his message.
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Old 02-11-11, 02:13 PM
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Originally Posted by scroca View Post
I always thought the speed limit meant you weren't supposed to go faster than what is posted and that you are legally permitted to that speed if conditions are good. What's this about the speed limit being the speed you are supposed to go?
Good catch. What does this cop think? That all traffic is supposed to travel at EXACTLY the speed limit?
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Old 02-11-11, 02:16 PM
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There was an article written by an attorney recently (last 12 months) about a similar incident in West Virginia/Virginia and Ohio. The basic gist of bike laws is this.

A bike is a car and is bound by those laws. States vary yes, but it's safer to make a blanket statement with that high of a bar.

Treat your bike as a car, front light, rear light, headlamp, and be visible. Don't give the fuzz any reason to give you crap.

As for impeding traffic flow, the article written I referenced above was written by a bike attorney and the laws of those states are written to say that a rider on a narrow road has to keep speed that is acceptable to that rider's level. So in the article they referenced two experienced riders that biked in national championships. They were keeping speed in line with their ability, 20 - 30 mph, in town which is not impeding, but had they been just skipping about at a leisurely pace, the cops would have had a leg to stand on.

My laws in Oregon are written to say that if the shoulder is not wide enough and it is not safe for a car to pass on the left that a bike should be in the center of the lane and act as a car. You could, as I do, ride closer to the shoulder because idiots like to fly around bikes so I give them room.
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Old 02-11-11, 02:20 PM
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Originally Posted by I_like_cereal View Post
There was an article written by an attorney recently (last 12 months) about a similar incident in West Virginia/Virginia and Ohio. The basic gist of bike laws is this.

A bike is a car and is bound by those laws. States vary yes, but it's safer to make a blanket statement with that high of a bar.

Treat your bike as a car, front light, rear light, headlamp, and be visible. Don't give the fuzz any reason to give you crap.

As for impeding traffic flow, the article written I referenced above was written by a bike attorney and the laws of those states are written to say that a rider on a narrow road has to keep speed that is acceptable to that rider's level. So in the article they referenced two experienced riders that biked in national championships. They were keeping speed in line with their ability, 20 - 30 mph, in town which is not impeding, but had they been just skipping about at a leisurely pace, the cops would have had a leg to stand on.

My laws in Oregon are written to say that if the shoulder is not wide enough and it is not safe for a car to pass on the left that a bike should be in the center of the lane and act as a car. You could, as I do, ride closer to the shoulder because idiots like to fly around bikes so I give them room.
For the most part this is fairly reasonable advise... the only caveat is right at the bottom where you then "support" idiots. I do understand what you mean... it is too bad however that the idiots aren't the ones being questioned by the cops.
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Old 02-11-11, 02:26 PM
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It's not so much support idiots, I view it as insurance so that I can go home at night.
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Old 02-11-11, 02:33 PM
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Do what you feel safest doing. The law in my area states I should ride to the right as is safe and practical. For the most part I follow it. However there are times when I take the lane. However, I do not try to impede traffic and move over to the right when I feel it is best to do so.

Its a judgment call. I put my safety first and foremost and will deal with the occasional hostility while asserting my rights on the road.
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Old 02-11-11, 02:42 PM
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Sounds like the OP was riding in full compliance with state law (no state requires cyclists to have mirrors nor to use lights during the daytime, nor are cyclists required to ride in a parking lane). Since this is his commute route he may well encounter the same officer again in the future. So I'd suggest he write to the head of the local police department indicating that he felt this was an unjustified stop, outlining relevant state law in support, and requesting that officers be instructed not to stop or otherwise inconvenience lawful cyclists.
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Old 02-11-11, 02:53 PM
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There's a pretty good compilation of Utah cycling laws here that you should familiarize yourself with (maybe even print them out and stick them in your bag in case you get stopped again): http://www.utahbikes.org/laws/

The others are right that the general rule is you can take the full lane if you feel there is any danger in riding to the far right, and that it's your call to make (check the link to see if this general rule also applies in Utah). It sounds like the officer was mostly full of BS.

Still, I'd recommend you throw a mirror and some lights on the bike if you're using it for regular commuting (especially on relatively fast roads). Whether or not you take the lane should be dictated by the road condition and all sorts of other factors, so I can't really speculate as to what I'd do.
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Old 02-11-11, 03:01 PM
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Originally Posted by scroca View Post
Lights, yes. High-vis clothing, yes. Mirror? Doesn't do a thing for you being visibile to drivers and won't prevent you from getting left hooked.
You mean right hooked? It mentions a mirror for that, actually.

Thanks for all the opinions so far. I want to make it clear than I want to be safe and follow the law.

I agree on being visible, that's why I don't like the idea of riding in the parking lane in the first place. My clothes could be brighter. But lights? It's well not at all dark when I ride. I have a generator light; I doubt that will make much of a difference in the daytime. Would even a brighter light show up in the daytime?
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Old 02-11-11, 03:02 PM
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Originally Posted by I_like_cereal View Post
It's not so much support idiots, I view it as insurance so that I can go home at night.
Like I said, I do understand what you mean... and none the less it is to "support idiots..." but it's all we can do, they're all over the roads.
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Old 02-11-11, 03:06 PM
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Originally Posted by iain.dalton View Post
Cop: [...] I don't want to scrape you off the street.
That's the problem with America; nobody wants to do their job anymore.
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Old 02-11-11, 03:28 PM
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Originally Posted by iain.dalton View Post
But lights? It's well not at all dark when I ride. I have a generator light; I doubt that will make much of a difference in the daytime. Would even a brighter light show up in the daytime?
Lights yes. Hell yes, even if it is a flashlight. Think about this way. You get creamed by some jackwagon and he says:

Your Honor I swear I did not see him with all that dark clothing. (presents pictures)
Judge says: didn't you see his rear reflector, armbands, legbands, or rear red light?
What reflectors, bands, or rear red light (presents pictures of bike)

You get crucified for not having invested $10 in your bike and yourself.

Invest $10 and keep your head on a swivel. I ride with my lights on during the day cause it's the law and I do not want to give anyone an excuse to weasel out of paying for injuring me nor do I want to give a cop a reason to harass me. I ride the should of a very busy, some say insane 55-60 mph road, full lights, reflectors, etc... Be smarter than the car people they have 6" of steel and foam, you do not.
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