Law Enforcement:

On-bike police officers set a good example and can help to reinforce obedience to traffic laws by communication as well as direct enforcement.

Photo by Dan Burden

Photo from AAA
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Along with engineering and education approaches to improving bicyclist safety, enforcement of traffic laws can help to create a safer riding environment, whether this enforcement is directed at the motorist or the bicyclist. With respect to motorists, efforts to reduce speeding in residential areas and along roadways frequented by bicyclists, and to enforce proper yielding, passing and overtaking maneuvers, can make roadways safer places for bicyclists, and also safer for other motorists and pedestrians sharing the roadway. Similarly, efforts to curb running of red lights at intersections will benefit all road users.

Although law enforcement officers sometimes find it difficult to "ticket" bicyclists, and even to stop a young child, such actions as riding facing traffic, weaving in and out of traffic, ignoring stop signs, and riding without proper lights at night are dangerous, and they can create ill will with motorists. Law enforcement officers can take advantage of the opportunity to stop and educate the offending bicyclist about the importance of obeying traffic laws. It is especially critical that officers enforce any helmet wearing law in effect, in order to increase the effectiveness of the laws.

A judicial program especially targeted to the intended audience can be a key to encouraging greater participation by police in bicycle law enforcement activities. On college campuses, a special "student court" can be set up to address traffic violators, including bicyclists. Young children (and their parents) might be asked to attend a bicycle safety education class in lieu of paying a traffic fine. Typically, the focus of special bicycle judicial programs is on education rather than punishment.

Special educational programs offered to bicyclists in lieu of conviction or traffic court appearances are a form of diversion program since the offender (often a juvenile) is diverted from normal court procedures. Diversion programs have long been used with respect to juveniles, teens, and other special populations. There are a number of examples of bicyclist diversion programs in place across the country, including programs in:

A recent article appearing in the International Police Mountain Bike Association newsletter supported increased police enforcement of traffic laws for bicyclists. It states:

The focus of any bicycle enforcement program should be educational, not punitive. A successful enforcement program should improve a cyclist’s knowledge and attitudes, and, most importantly, behavior. A good program also educates the motoring public concerning their rights and responsibilities when sharing the road with bicyclists (see http://www.ipmba.org/printables/case-for-bike-enforcement.PDF).1

Although law enforcement officers are trained to make traffic stops for speeding, red light running, and other dangerous behaviors by motorists, they typically do not receive any special training with respect to bicycle safety. It is not surprising, then, that there is very little active enforcement of traffic laws affecting bicyclists in U.S. communities. In the state of Wisconsin, however, the situation is improving because of an innovative training program that is offered upon request to individual police departments. Officers who participate in the two-day Enforcement for Bicycle Safety Course significantly improve both their knowledge and attitudes about enforcement for bicycle safety, and are more likely to make enforcement contacts in their communities (see case study #44).

On a national level, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) now offers a similar course entitled "Community Bicycle Safety for Law Enforcement" to provide guidance to officers interested in working with their communities to encourage bicycling and improve bicycle safety. A CD-ROM training course is also under development that may be offered by a training officer or taken via self-instruction on a personal computer. (See http://www.bicyclinginfo.org/ee/enforce_officer03.htm.) Another source of support to law enforcement officers is the Law Enforcement Bicycle Association (LEBA), an organization "run by cops for cops" (http://www.leba.org).

Trained, adult crossing guards are another fairly benign but effective method of providing correction and education to motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians, particularly children en route to and from school. Crossing guards educate on safe walking and bicycling behaviors, assist children in crossing at certain locations, and may help to encourage use of these modes in traveling to school since they provide a measure of safety that engineering treatments alone cannot provide. Additionally, well-trained adult guards may assist in enforcing motorist speed limits, yielding, and other laws (through reporting offending motorists). Since 1992, the State of Florida requires most localities to provide minimum training by using the Florida School Crossing Guard Training Guidelines (see http://www.dot.state.fl.us/Safety/ped_bike/training/ped_bike_training.htm).

Finally, NHTSA has compiled a resource guide on laws related to pedestrian and bicycle safety. The guide is available for downloading at http://www.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/pedbimot/bike/resourceguide/index.html.

Purpose

  • Educate law enforcement officers about factors contributing to bicyclist crashes and about ways they can interact with the public to reduce these factors and ultimately the number of bicycle-motor vehicle traffic crashes.
  • Improve cyclists' knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors with respect to safe bicycling.
  • Educate the motoring public about their rights and responsibilities when sharing the road with bicyclists.
  • Deal effectively with young children as bicyclists.

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Considerations

  • Because of the many demands placed on law enforcement officials' time, it may be difficult to convince police departments of the importance of officers receiving training in enforcement of laws relating to bicycle safety.
  • Although "education" is emphasized over "ticketing," the problem of how to handle young offenders especially can be a roadblock to effective bicycle law enforcement. (See case study #47.)
  • Bicycle law enforcement programs are most needed in communities and areas with high levels of bicycling, such as on and around college campuses.

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Estimated Cost

The estimated cost for an officer to participate in the two-day Wisconsin officer training course is $90 to $100, with discounts available to sponsoring departments and some training costs covered by the state. If another state wanted to initiate a similar program, there would be startup costs involved, primarily associated with "train the trainer" activities. WE BIKE, the developer of the course, also offers instructor training (see case study #44). NHTSA has recently begun to offer a similar program.

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Case Studies

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