Friday, May 1, 2009

"As Far Right as is Practicable": Dwight Tovey's Day in court

Dwight Tovey is a League Cycling Instructor in Idaho. He was pulled over for not riding far enough right, and cited when he contested the officers advice to ride farther right then Dwight thought appropriate. In light of recent discussion in the Monitor, here is what happened when he had his day in court.

It was an interesting trial. There were 5 people (including me) on the calendar. They called my case last, so I got to watch everyone else. There were some interesting things there, but it mostly gave me a chance to watch the process.

When the called my case I went up and the officer came in. The prosecutor called him as the first witness and he basically went over what happened when he pulled me over. The only thing that I really disagreed with was when he said that I told him I could ride where ever I wanted. What I really said was that where I was riding was not against the law, but I didn't need to dwell on that.

During the previous trials, one of the things I noticed was that the prosecutor asked each officer how long he had been an officer and about his experience. In my case, Officer Lim stated that he had been an officer for 12 years and a patrol officer for 5. During my cross I asked him what experience he had as a bicyclist (mountain bike only) and what training he had as a road cyclist (only "common sense" training - not sure what that was supposed to mean, but I let it go). He had also stated that he noticed me because traffic was backing up trying to get around me. I asked him if he patrolled that are often at that time of day (5:00PM) and he said that he did. I asked if traffic didn't normally back up on that road at that time of day. He acknowledged that it did. Since this was a three-lane road (two traffic lanes and a center left turn lane), the judge asked him if there were many cars entering the center lane to make a left turn (thus preventing through motorists from moving over to pass me). Officer Lim stated that there was not.

Then it was my turn to testify. I pointed out that the law does not require bicyclists to use the shoulder, and I presented two Idaho Supreme Court cases (thanks to Philip Cook - a fellow LCI from Moscow) that explicitly stated that bicyclists are not obligated to stay in the shoulder. The judge took a few minutes to review these cases and agreed that the law was in my favour there. I testified that I am a League Cycling Instructor and that I teach bike safety and the bicycling related laws. I explained that in a narrow lane it actually isn't safe for a bicyclist to be all the way over on the edge of the lane because it encourages motorists to try to squeeze by when it isn't safe. I presented photos of the area to show how narrow the road is, and a diagram from the Florida Bicycle Association (thanks to Fred Ungewitter in Florida) showing 'How to Get more Passing Clearance' by riding further left in the lane. I pointed out in the Idaho Street Smarts manual (written by John Allen) the section that deals with narrow lanes. The Prosecutor had some concerns about where the manual came from.

The Prosecutor did ask me some questions during his cross, but I really don't remember what his questions were. I don't think they were very relevant.

After my testimony I called Mark McNeese (Idaho Transportation Dept. Bicycle Pedestrian Coordinator) to the stand. I asked Mark about the Street Smarts manual and he explained that ITD and the Ada County Highway District had collaborated to have the book published. Mark stated that there was nothing in the book that contradicted Idaho law. Since the area where I was ticketed is a State highway, I asked Mark about the standard lane width (12 feet). I also asked what the recommended width would be for a "shareable lane". Mark presented the Idaho Design Manual which states that a lane should be 14 feet wide to be considered shareable. Mark also stated that a bicyclist needs to be visible and predictable. Part of being visible and predictable includes riding where motorists will be more likely to see the bicyclist rather than at the edge of the road.

In all my trial took over an hour, while the previous cases where all less than 1/2 hour each. Both the judge and the prosecutor commented that it had been a learning experience for them, and while the judge acknowledged that Officer Lim was just trying to do his job, given that the law is less than clear about what is "as far right as practicable", the final verdict was Not Guilty.

After my trial there was a Sheriff's department bike officer there who was talking to Craig Quintana from ACHD. The officer was interested in setting up some seminars for the Sheriff's department so that we could explain what the League is trying to teach bicyclists and why. He took Craig's card and will contact him to see about setting something up.

In all it was an interesting (if long) day.


Dwight Tovey
LCI #750
dwight at dtovey dot net

1 comment:

Mrs. Gail P. Spann said...

Proud of you!!! Gail Spann, LCI # 1900