Thursday, November 19, 2015

FABB and Police Bicycle Safety Videos

In 2013 FABB and WABA met with Fairfax County Police to discuss how we can work together to improve bicycle safety (see our Jul-Aug 2013 newsletter). In various previous encounters with police, members of FABB heard statements from police that concerned us regarding behavior of bicyclists and motorists, and about cyclists rights. We wanted to reach out to police to ensure rank and file officers were aware of Virginia law as it applies to bicyclists.

At the meeting we agreed to work with police on production of a bicycle safety video to be shown to all Fairfax County police at roll call. Our goal for the video was to illustrate various aspects of Virginia law as it applies to bicyclists, focusing on those laws that are often misinterpreted. We hoped production of the video would lead to further cooperation with police and a better understanding by all police of bicyclists' rights and responsibilities. FABB would help with the script and we offered to provide locations and bicyclists to appear in the video.

Shortly after that meeting we drafted a script that could be used as a starting point for the video. We based the script on what we thought was a very good police training video produced by Portland police in cooperation with their local bicycle advocacy group. Another good police training video was produced for Maryland police.

We presented the script to our police contact and were told the script would need to be reviewed internally and they would get back to us. A year later, after numerous inquiries about the status of the video, we learned that police had a final script and were preparing to film the video. We did not review the script nor were we invited to participate in the filming. We were told we could attend the filming if we wanted.

We were very disappointed with the final script. Rather than focusing on important concepts of bicycle law, the video concentrated on basic definitions and some minor aspects of the law as it applies to bicyclists, mostly unlawful cyclist behavior such has holding onto a moving vehicle, wearing earbuds in both ears, and carrying an object on the handlebars.

We think one of the most important aspects of VA bicycle code is knowing where cyclists should ride when riding on the road. We are not required to ride to the far right, only as far to the right as is safely practicable. On a road that is too narrow to share with motorists, which is almost all roads in Fairfax County, bicyclists may ride even further from the curb, "taking the lane." This concept is only briefly mentioned and not illustrated half way through the video.

Under a section labelled "Kiss and Ride" the video devotes over a minute explaining why it's ok for motorists to block a bike lane. There is almost no mention of motorist responsibilities such as stopping when turning right on red, obeying the speed limit, etc. There's no mention of common motorist actions that cause crashes.

In response to this video we produced our own draft video that we hoped would be used by police to form the basis of a second video focusing on our concerns. We shared the video with police. The rough draft was sent to station commanders.

The moral of this story is to be careful what you ask for. While the police-produced video illustrates some good points, we think it is very focused on enforcement of bicyclist behavior and not on bicycle safety. You decide:

Video produced by Fairfax County Police

Draft Video produced by FABB

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The FABB video is great. Thanks for putting that together. Based on experience in Arlington, I would add two points to tour video:
1) a discussion of yielding the right of way at crosswalks (and possibly a discussion of whether stop signs on trails are legal - they aren't at all in Arlington)
2) a discussion of what to expect in the case of a collision - acpd policy is to take a report when asked and to not finalize a report until talking to all parties, and officers probably need a reminder of those points. Also, officers seem surprised at how shaken up cyclists are post crash and have been known to attribute this to road rage that led to the collision. Pointing out how terrifying being hit is for the person on the bike would be helpful.

Finally, the FCPD video is wrong on the law in multiple places. You may want to reach out to the Commonwealth's attorney on that - we had a great conversation with her at an Arlington bac meeting this summer.

Thanks again
Thanks for your comments Gillian. We’d like to be able to produce a higher quality video at some point and if we do we’ll include your suggestions. I also received a note suggesting we add references to the new laws passed since the video was produced, that it's okay for a motorist to cross the yellow line to pass a cyclist and that a motorist can’t follow a cyclist too closely.

Regarding stop signs on trails, you’ll notice that no code was cited during that segment in the police video. I know of two instances where cyclists were ticketed for running a stop sign on the W&OD Trail and both tickets were dismissed because the code used for the citations applied to roads and not the trail. Falls Church does have a local code requiring cyclists to stop at all stop signs but it’s not the case in Fairfax that I’m aware of. The bill that Sen. Favola patroned that would allow local jurisdictions to require bicyclists to stop at stop signs on trails (encoded in 46.2-924) has not been implemented in Fairfax.

Discussing these issues with the Commonwealth’s Attorney is a really good idea.

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