The Selz Case--establishing bicyclist's right to the road

It's nearly over ten years since the famous "Selz Case" was decided--one of the major legal precedents helping to establish bicyclists' right to use the nation's roadways.

Lawyer Steven Magas, who represented the defense in the Selz Case, gives a summary of the case and the outcome on his blog:

On July 16, 1999, Steven Selz was operating his bicycle along State Route 49 in Trotwood, Ohio, a five lane roadway with a speed limit of 45 mph. He had stopped a light and was going uphill from the light when Trotwood Police Officer Vance, with lights and siren blaring, pulled him over.

Officer Vance issued a citation to Mr. Selz for “impeding traffic” under a local Trotwood ordinance. At the February 7, 2000 trial, Officer Vance testified that Mr. Selz “…was driving in the middle of the lane…” and was going “…no more than 15 miles per hour…” She further testified that “…cars had to stop and … go over to the other lane to get around him…”

At trial, before a municipal judge, Selz was found guilty:

Judge Price found Mr. Selz guilty as charged, stating:

“…I certainly understand the impassioned defense on this case because I do believe that bicyclists need a place to ride and it is not safe a lot of times to ride it on the streets on 49. I don’t even think I’d ride there at 2:00 a.m. just because of the traffic. I don’t think it’s safe.”

There it is – those good old “I personally don’t think it’s safe” and “I will PROTECT you from danger” concepts.  The role of a court is not to “impede” the legitimate and lawful use of the public way because a judge would personally feel unsafe riding in traffic.  If that were the standard motorcycles and other fun vehicles would be banned from the roads every day!

Mr. Selz was convicted of “impeding traffic fined $100.00, plus costs.

The case was appealed, and the appeals court ruled in favor of Selz:

The court found a case in Georgia involving a slow moving farm combine. In that case, the Georgia court found that operator of a slow moving vehicle, which was traveling at or near its top speed, could not be convicted of “impeding traffic” under a similar law. The Court of Appeals compared the Georgia case to this one and stated”

“In either case, holding the operator to have violated the slow speed statute would be tantamount to excluding operators of these vehicles from the public roadways, something that each legislative authority, respectively, has not clearly expressed an intention to do.”

This decision was published (State v. Selz [2000], 139 Ohio App.3d 947), making it a strong precedent that can be used by lawyers in any similar cases that may arise in the future.

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