Can cycling be a crime? It sure can when a cyclist throws his/her bike at a car! While there are several criminal offenses a cyclist could be charged with, lets focus on the 2 most common. Most states have a Criminal Damage law and an Assault law in their criminal code. I have run into these several times as an attorney representing cyclists involved in accidents. Let me help you to avoid these dangerous and seemingly unfair charges. I’ll share two real life examples I have run into in my Bike Accident practice.
First: I had a client (lets name him Biker Bob) who was involved in an accident while legally cycling through a crosswalk. A distracted teenage driver was paying more attention to texting on his phone than the traffic signal. The driver thought the light had turned green and proceeded through the intersection while texting, never having stopped to look and see if it was clear. Assuming that the light was now green he just drove right on through and hit my client. The light of course was red, and if the driver would have simply stopped texting and looked at the light before stepping on the gas pedal he would have known that.
Luckily Biker Bob wasn’t injured that badly, but his custom limited edition LeMond bicycle was! Understandably so, my client was enraged. He quickly picked himself up and hauled right over to the teenage driver (who at this time had stepped out of his car to check on the cyclist) and punched him square in the face. The cops naturally came and a report was filed. My client could have been charged with assault and would have faced a criminal record the rest of his life IF the driver would have told the cops what my client did. Luckily, the teenage kid was so embarrassed by causing the accident and getting clocked in the face by a man in his early 70s that he said nothing to the police about the assault.
When I first heard this story from Biker Bob I honestly laughed a bit. I knew exactly what he felt like and was even admittedly a bit proud of him. I mean really, who actually does that? I too have felt that anger in similar experiences and would have been very tempted to do the same thing. However, Biker Bob committed a crime. Any physical harm caused to another may constitute a criminal assault charge in your state. In fact, even if you don’t actually touch the other person but place them in reasonable fear that you are going to hurt them you could end up with an assault charge.
In Arizona, a criminal assault charge is found in A.R.S. 13-1203. “A person commits assault by: 1. Intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causing any physical injury to another person; or 2. Intentionally placing another person in reasonable apprehension of imminent physical injury; or 3. Knowingly touching another person with the intent to injure, insult or provoke such person.” These charges vary in degree but all come with fines, a permanent criminal record in Arizona, and maybe even some jail time. So think twice next time you have the opportunity to take your anger out on a negligent driver.
Lets take a look at another story to show additional criminal offenses. One time another cyclist (lets just stick with Biker Bob for simplicity) called in for a consult because the cops were charging him with criminal property damage after he was hit by a driver. Biker Bob was furious! He couldn’t understand how after he got hit he ended being the one charged with criminal property damage. Here are the facts:
Biker Bob was approaching a 4 way stop sign. The driver was also approaching the same intersection and coming to the stop sign that Biker Bob was just about to proceed through. Biker Bob and the driver made eye contact and there was no doubt that the driver knew Biker Bob was going to proceed through the intersection in front of the driver. Just as Biker Bob was in front of the driver, the driver stomped on the gas and lunged forward knocking Biker Bob down. Luckily Biker Bob was not seriously injured at all. But this is when it got ugly. Biker Bob stands up and began shouting at the driver. The driver of course vigorously shouting back at Biker Bob. Then the driver steps on the gas and knocks Biker Bob down a second time! Biker Bob is beyond angry now and promptly picks up his bicycle and throws it at the windshield of the driver. The driver then flees the scene. The cops are called and by this time the driver returned to the scene. Shockingly (or maybe not so shockingly) the driver fails to receive any citation! Biker Bob was charged with criminal property damage! This is extremely unfair and highlights the huge bias against cyclists in our culture. The many criminal charges that could have been brought against the driver include, assault, aggravated assault, criminal property damage, fleeing the scene of an accident, and on and on.
Most states have criminal property damage statutes. In Arizona a person can be charged with criminal property damage if: “A person commits criminal damage by:
1. Recklessly defacing or damaging property of another person; or 2. Recklessly tampering with property of another person so as substantially to impair its function or value; or 3. Recklessly damaging the property of a utility. 4. Recklessly parking any vehicle in such a manner as to deprive livestock of access to the only reasonably available water. 5. Recklessly drawing or inscribing a message, slogan, sign or symbol that is made on any public or private building, structure or surface, except the ground, and that is made without permission of the owner. 6. Intentionally tampering with utility property.” A.R.S. 13-1602.
If you take what we learn from the 1st story then you can see how Biker Bob could also have been charged with criminal assault as well when he threw his bicycle at the driver. Bicycle laws are unique and sometimes seem unforgiving when compared to the standards of motorists. The sad but practical truth is that as cyclists we are held to a higher standard under the same laws as motorists. To avoid unnecessary criminal charges from the local police we need to always be on our best behavior. Keep the emotions in check and act in a calm and reasonable manner when involved in an accident.
If you have been involved in a cycling accident or have questions regarding your state’s cycling laws, call us at 800.ONE.EZ.CALL (800.663.3922) for a free consultation. We accept cases in all 50 states. Our practiced is dedicated entirely to representing bicycle accident victims. Check out our main page at www.BikeAccidentAttorneys.com.