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No Justice for Cyclists

What's wrong with this picture?

Zach T. Going through a green light, and getting hit by a driver who made an illegal left turn Traffic Citation

Cypress Sigman

Riding on sidewalk

Tommy Eden

Asking officer for badge number after nearly being sideswiped

Reed Murray & Fred Meredith

Being passed by another cyclist
Traffic Citation

(Too many to list)

Bicycling without helmet

Bernadette Noll's husband

Running red light
Arrest (not ticket)

Bernadette Noll

Refusing to identify husband

Brendan Guilfoyl

Asking why another cyclist was being arrested

Shaun Stenshol

Riding a bicycle
explanation of some of these cases
Gabrielle Nestrande Killed a pedestrian while driving drunk,
and fled the scene
(no fine, no jail)
Armando Reza Intentionally rammed cyclists, while drunk, and without a license 10 days in jail
Erik Fabian Intentionally rammed cyclists Probation
(no fine, no jail)

Melissa Graham

Killed cyclist Andrew Turner and injured cyclist Heather Sealey while drunk driving

Michael Memon

Killed cyclist Tom Churchill while drunk driving

Hector Gonzalez

Intentionally rammed cyclist
None. Police refused to take statement from witnesses.

Lauren Robishaw

Ran red light and killed cyclist Ben Clough
Community Service

Unknown motorist

Ran red light, hit two cyclists

Unknown motorist

Ran Stop Sign, hit cyclist Janne Osborne

Unknown Motorist

Hit-and-run'd Keith Hailey

Unknown Motorist

Hit-and-run'd Mark Bennett Brooks
These are just a sample. For more cases see the table.


This section of Bicycling in Austin details two separate problems:

  • Around half of serious car-bike collisions are hit-and-runs.
  • Drivers who hit cyclists often receive light penalties, or none at all.

I mostly gave up on updating this part of Bicycle Austin because it was too depressing, especially because things never seemed to get any better.

It's hard to accept the fact when I look out over a sea of cars, that half the drivers, if they hit me, are quite willing to leave me for dead.  And even among the minority of motorists who do stop, probably many of them would flee if they thought they could get away with it.  Think about that one for a minute.

Put this into perspective the next time motorists complain how cyclists won't get respect until they start following the law.  Hit & running someone with a motor vehicle is far more illegal than a cyclist rolling a stop sign, but when was the last time anyone suggested that drivers as a class don't deserve to be on the road until they start acting lawful?

And in fact, research suggests that drivers are at-fault in 90% of car-bike collisions.

Even in cases in which the motorist doesn't get away, the motorist often will often face no charges, and may be acquitted in the event that they DO face charges.  The motorist who was at-fault for hitting Devorah Feldman wasn't cited, the driver who ran over and killed Tom Churchill was no-billed by a grand jury, and the drunk driver who killed Andrew Turner and crippled Heather Sealey had two trials, both resulting in a hung jury.  Of the 180 local cases in which the police noted motorist-related crash factors, citations were issued to motorists only 35% of the time. (1994-96)  For example, in the 39 cases in 1998 where drivers caused or contributed to bike collisions by failing to yield the right of way, citations were issued in only 14 cases. (source)  And people wonder why cyclists are upset?  It time we hold motorists accountable for their actions.

The flipside of this issue is that cyclists often get arrested for minor traffic infractions, even when they don't hurt or kill somebody. In other words, it seems that it's easier to go to jail for riding a bike on the sidewalk than it is for running over and killing a cyclist with your car.

Here's our coverage of this issue

Why is there no justice? An article detailing the lack of prosecution of at-fault motorists, and why that happens.

The Table. A table of the major local cases, showing whether the case was a hit & run, what (if anything) happened to the motorist, and other items.

Details of the cases listed in the table.

Overview of the justice process. We explain what's involved for a motorist to actually face charges and how long it takes.

What to do if you're hit or harassed by a motorist.

How to Not Get Hit by Cars. If all this is scaring you, then be sure to check out our guide on how to not get hit. Of course, these tips assume that motorists are trying to avoid you. If they want to hit you intentionally, there's little you can do to prevent it.

Examples of cases like these outside Austin. We don't have the resources to cover these issues outside of Autin in any detail, but here are some examples.

Harassment from Motorists. Besides motorists injuring and killing us, sometimes they just threaten and harass us.

Collision Statistics.  Here's our large section of collision statistics.

Police Criticism. Some of the injustice we suffer is at the hands of the police, who frequently arrest and send cyclists to jail for minor traffic offenses like riding on the sidewalk, while at the same time they fail to cite at-fault motorists who kill or injure us.

Media Criticism. Some of the injustice we suffer is at the hands of the local media, which shifts the blame for collisions onto cyclists even when the cyclists weren't at fault (maybe incompetence or bias, or both), or which simply fails to report real news -- such as the fact that motorists often face little or no penalties for hitting us.

Referrals to Attorneys. The only bicycle injury attorneys we know of are listed on our "What to do if you're hit..." page.

Who's usually at fault:

This isn't easy to quantify for at least two reasons. First, the police often don't even bother to write up a report if the cyclist or bicycle isn't seriously injured, so the data is woefully incomplete. As Preston Tyree told us in Dec. 2000, "Most of the statistics for bike injuries are severly undercounted. In Texas for instance, the DPS only gets reports of crashes that involve motor vehicles and in which the motor vehicle sustains enough damage that it has to be towed. (Fatalities do get reported even if the motor vehicle isn't damaged.) While I've spent time in the hospital from crashes on at least three occasions, none of those show on the DPS statistics. However, they do show on the lesser reported TDH statistics only because they were in Travis County where the hospitals report emergency room visits."

Leah Shahum of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition says its group's 2001 study concluded that police neglect to report bicycle incidents. Out of about 40 injury cases called in to the coalition's hotline, officers refused to file reports one-third of the time. (source)

Also, when the police do write a report, the report can suffer from their anti-bike bias. If anyone doubts that such a bias exists, look through this site at all the cases where at-fault motorists fail to get properly ticketed for injuring or killing cyclists. The NYC group Right of Way says: "After NYC cycling fatalities increased twofold in 1999, police rushed to cover their, er, reputation by claiming (without analysis or supporting data) that cyclists are to blame in 75% of cycling deaths. Right of Way took a closer look. Surprise! The truth is just the reverse, as listed in our report, The Only Good Cyclist (PDF)."

According to Right of Way, over 90% of cyclist deaths in NYC are the fault of drivers.

More Information. Please don't write to ask for "more information" about any of these cases (or cases not listed). If we know about it, it's already here on the site. If it's not on the site, we don't know about it. On the other hand, if you have more information to provide, we would appreciate hearing about it.


Articles on other sites:

Most at-fault motorists who kill cyclists and pedestrians get off the hook. A study by the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition shows that three out of four at fault drivers were never even cited for hitting and killing pedestrians. 22% of fatal pedestrian crashes involved hit and run drivers, yet, none of the runaway motorists were found or charged.(2003) In New York, 70-92% of drivers were at-fault in killing pedestrians and cyclists, but 74% didn't even get a ticket. (, 1999) Only 35% of at-fault Texas drivers get cited when they hit a cyclist. (DPS, via City of Austin) The Statesman reports that murdering drivers getting off with only slaps on the wrist is fairly common.

Motorists usually at fault. Drivers are at fault in almost 90% of pedestrian and bicyclist deaths in New York. In over 90% of pedestrian fatalities, the driver is male. (, 1999)

Chronicle's article on the lack of justice. The Austin Chronicle ran a big story, reporting in car-bike collisions when the police noted that the motorist had committed a moving violation, half the time they didn't even bother to write the motorist a ticket. (Nov. 2006)

Driving while Drowsy. More than half of Americans admit to driving while drowsy. Is this really a problem? Hell yes! Many fatalaties are caused by motorists who fall asleep at the wheel. And when sleeping drivers injure or kill cyclists, and then often don't face any penalties! (For example, see the case of Jason Boardman & Cameron Cooper, also listed in the table.)

Cyclists lose their bikes for riding without a helmet. That's the threat by Holliston, MA police. But will they confiscate cars from motorists who aren't buckled up? Of course not.

APD's Collision Database. Search the local police department's database of collisions.

Assault with a deadly weapon. Prosecutors are often reluctant to consider a vehicle a deadly weapon under the "assault with a deadly weapon" crime. But a driver in Portland who two cyclists was successfully prosecuted, with his vehicle deemed a deadly weapon.

Explanation of cases listed above in which cyclists received harsh penalties

Cypress Sigman. Cypress was stopped for biking on the sidewalk (late 90's) , and when she asked the officer for clarification regarding the law against biking on the sidewalk, she was arrested. FYI, Austin prohibits biking on the sidewalk in a "business district", which is defined as certain parts of downtown an the drag. More on the law.

Tommy Eden. After Tommy was nearly sideswiped by a police car, he caught up with the police officer, whose window was rolled down, and told the officer that he'd nearly hit him, and asked him to be more careful. The officer ignored Tommy, so he repeated himself. The officer ordered Tommy onto the sidewalk. Tommy complied, then asked the officer for his badge number. The officer ignored him, so Tommy kept asking. The officer kept ignoring him, until he finally got out of the car and arrested Tommy. (mid 90's)

Reed Murray & Fred Meredith. Reed and Murray were legally cycling side-by-side on a 5-lane roadway. Another cyclist passed them on the left, so for a split second they were three abreast. An officer gave all three cyclists tickets. I was behind them, and witnessed the whole thing. (1994 or 1995)

Bicycling without helmets. During the year that Austin had a helmet law for adults (1996-97), we lost track of how many adults got arrested (not just ticketed, but arrested) for not wearing helmets. The law was amended in 1997 to apply only to those 17 and under, but now the problem is that nearly all the no-helmet tickets given to kids are given to black and Hispanic kids. More on the helmet ordinance.

Bernadette Noll & her husband. Noll wrote an article about her experience in jail after for the Austin Chronicle. (1996)

Brendan Guilfoyl. Pretty straightforward. Elliot was being arrested (for biking on the sidewalk, I think), and when Brendan asked why Elliot was being arrested, Brendan was arrested. I may have gotten the victims backwards (Elliot may have asked why Brendan was being arrested), but I do remember seeing the police videotape of this incident. (1993 or 1994)

Shaun Stenshol. A bike officer ordered Shaun to pull his bike over, for no apparent reason. (I witnessed the whole thing.) Shaun started to comply, but evidently not fast enough, and the officer plus another one tackled Shaun to the ground, then dragged him to a police van by his hair. (October 1994)

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