Significant ruling in Ohio about bicyclists "impeding traffic"

A significant court ruling about the rights of bicyclists to ride on the road has been handed down by an Ohio court.

The case involved two bicyclists who were riding abreast on a two-lane road.

A policeman was driving behind them, passed them, and observed that the bicyclists didn't single up even though there were two more cars behind them. The policeman stopped ahead and directed the bicyclists to stop, but they did not. The policeman then followed the bicyclists, turned on his lights and sirens. When the bicyclists still refused to pull over the policeman finally used his taser to stop the bicyclists.

The bicyclists were then charged with:
  • Resisting arrest
  • Disorderly conduct
  • "Operating a bike in the roadway"
  • Failure to comply with the order or signal of a police officer
The judge ruled:
  • The bicyclists may have been rude for riding two abreast but were breaking no law in Ohio--not the law requiring bicyclists to ride as far right as practicable (the lane was of non-sharable width), nor the law against impeding traffic, nor the law about riding abreast (which, in Ohio, does not require bicyclists to single up when impeding traffic)
  • There is no law at all that bans "operating a bike in the roadway"
  • Because the bicyclists were not breaking any law, the police officer had no basis to stop, detain, or arrest them and therefore all other charges were dismissed
The ruling is made more significant because (unlike most minor court rulings) this ruling has been published and so can be cited as a precedent in other cases.

Read the full ruling here.

Some notable excerpts:
  • [R]easonable bicyclists monitor traffic situations and when there are motorists behind them, alert each other, usually by the verbal signal “car back,” which signals everyone to get in to a single file so that traffic can more easily pass. The defendant in this case is alleged not to have done that, and while that may practically be inconsiderate, rude, and possibly dangerous, the questions before the court is whether there was a legal requirement to do such and whether the officer had cause to stop and then finally to arrest the defendant under the circumstances presented in this case.

  • In this case, the officer filed a citation against the defendant under R.C. 4511.55 and captioned it “Riding a bike in the Roadway.” It is not illegal in this state to operate a bicycle in the roadway so long as one complies with the requirements of the statute. There is no evidence or testimony from the officer that would prove a violation of this statute, as the bicyclists were riding two abreast, which is permitted by this statute.

  • The fact that the defendant continued to ride two abreast even though there was traffic behind him is not a violation of the statute. There is no requirement in the statute that bicyclists go to single file in order to allow traffic to pass, even though that is the common and best practice of bicyclists in this area. [Note: Here Ohio law is different than Missouri law, which states, "Bicyclists may ride abreast when not impeding other vehicles."]

  • In this case, the officer’s testimony is that he felt that the defendant was
    impeding traffic and that is why he asked him to pull over. It is clear to the court that a
    bicyclist traveling at a reasonable speed for a bicycle cannot be convicted under R.C.
    4511.22. There is no evidence that the defendant here was traveling at anything other
    than a reasonable speed.
  • [In order for a conviction for impeding traffic] there would have to be a showing in this court’s opinion that the cyclist was moving at a speed that was unreasonable for a bicycle in order for there to be a violation. This seems born out by the decision of the court in Trotwood v. Selz (2000), 139 Ohio App.3d 947. In Trotwood, the court of appeals overturned the conviction of a defendant under this section because there was no evidence that he was proceeding at a speed that was unreasonable for a cyclist.

  • [A]s minimally intrusive as it may seem to require the defendant to stop and talk
    with the officer when requested, he had a fundamental right to be left alone under the
    Fourth Amendment, and in this court’s opinion, was not required to stop.
  • the court does not find that the officer’s request for the defendant to stop was a lawful order, because there is no indication that the defendant at that point had violated any statute.
This situation and the ruling bring up several important questions:
  • What does this say about how bicyclists should handle traffic stops by police--especially those cases where the police officer is obviously in the wrong?

  • Were the bicyclists right in not stopping in this situation? Is there any way they could have handled the situation better?

  • What is the best way to deal with police officers who don't understand the traffic laws as they relate to bicyclists?
Feel free to give your answers to these questions--and others brought up by this case--in the comments section below . . .

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