Friday, December 21, 2012

Meeting with Traffic Division police

Dangerous pass on Vale Rd from video clip
Yesterday I met with Lt. Grinnan of Fairfax County Police Department Traffic Division. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss cyclist harassment. At FABB we hear of many instances of harassment of cyclists by motorists. It's likely that anyone who regularly rides in Fairfax encounters dangerous and aggressive motorist behavior.

I started the meeting by discussing FABB, our goals and projects. I explained that we represent cyclists who use bicycles for transportation and that many people rely on bicycles as their primary way to get around. Without a connected, safe bicycle network, we often must ride on congested commuter routes. I said that all too often we are harassed by motorists for no other reason than that we're riding a bicycle.

As a way of getting my point across I noted that on my ride to his office, on Woodburn Rd for a short stretch from the Cross County Trail, I was passed illegally by 4 motorists, one of whom honked, another two that drove completely into the oncoming lane of traffic, across a double yellow line. In one case approaching motorists had to nearly stop to avoid hitting one of the passing vehicles.

One reason for the meeting was to discuss two recent reports of harassment, one on Vale Road in the Vienna area where motorists often illegally pass on a hilly section and they often pass closer than 2 feet.  We later sent two short video clips showing examples of this behavior.

The other instance involves a mother riding her daughter to school, with the daughter in a trailer behind the bike. A motorist on more than one occasion approached the mother, rolled down her window, and screamed about how dangerous it is to ride in traffic.

Lt. Grinnan was very sympathetic. He agreed that motorists should be ticketed for their illegal behavior. He also confirmed that unless a policeman witnesses behavior that is a misdemeanor, a ticket cannot be issued by police to the motorist. However, a magistrate-issued summons can be issued to the motorist by an officer.

He explained in detail what cyclists need to do to report aggressive motorist behavior. We can file a report for the record that does not lead to any charges against the motorist but the report is kept on file. The other option is to file a complaint with the magistrate's office and ask that a citation be issued. The following are steps that should be taken if you are harassed by a motorist:

How to report an aggressive driver
  1. To file a report and not file charges:
    1. Call the non-emergency number (703-691-2131) and request to speak to someone in the Citizen Reporting Section. Have the license plate number, description of the vehicle and driver, time of day, location.
    2. A case number will be generated. The information is entered into the Integrated Law Enforcement Automated Field Reporting Dispatch System (ILEADS) but the motorist is not notified.
  2. To file a report and file charges against an aggressive driver:
    1. Call the non-emergency number and ask to file a police report. Have the license plate number, description of the vehicle and driver, time of day, location. If the information agrees with information on file, the driver is identified. Ask for the case number, name, address, and date of birth of the driver. This information is needed when contacting the Magistrate's office.
    2. Contact the Magistrate's office (in person). Ask to file a complaint against the motorist identified above. Provide the case number and personal information. A magistrate-issued summons could then be issued to the motorist by an officer. If the motorist contests the ticket, a court date will be set. Since the incident was not witnessed by an officer, he/she will not be present in court. When the case is heard, the motorist and complainant will have an opportunity to testify.

We plan to test this system and will record responses received during each phase. In the past we have been discouraged from filing a report since "there is nothing we can do." We know there are some measures that can be taken but they require work on our part. We think it's worth the effort.

Cyclists can also ask for increased enforcement on roads where cyclists are harassed. We have done so for a section of Vail Road. Contact the District station where the road is located. Provide specific information about time and place of incidents. Update: Here's the video clip of the close pass.

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I've included the video clip of the motorist passing too close.

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