Bicycle & Skate Law
Motorist's Repeat Harassment of Bicyclists
By Ray Thomas, Oregon Bicycle Attorney
We have previously discussed, from both a legal and citizen perspective, “The Red Pickup Guy” of West Salem who was prosecuted for multiple criminal charges in July, 2007 by the Polk County District Attorney. This was the fellow (reported to the Polk County Sheriff by numerous members of the Salem Bicycle Club) who, in his red pickup truck, would drive up behind riders on the popular rural roadway in West Salem where he lived, only to lay on his horn as he passed dangerously close to the startled bicyclist.
The defendant was acquitted in a non-jury trial of the criminal charges but convicted of two violations for “Following too Close” and “Violation Of Use Limits of Sound Equipment (Horn)”. While this was small punishment for repeated harassment of innocent bicyclists over a number of years, we hoped it would send a message to him to change his behavior before he caused a serious injury. Incredibly, we learned that he was at it again this winter when a lone female rider was surprised to see the red pickup truck immediately behind her:
On Sunday, January 26, 2008 at approximately 2 pm. I was Northbound on Brush College Rd on my bicycle. About 200-300 feet prior to me reaching Gibson Rd, I heard a vehicle come up behind me. I took a quick glance over my shoulder and identified a red pickup. There was no oncoming traffic and I waved the pickup around as I hugged the white fog line. The pickup did not pass me, so I assumed he was going to turn right onto Gibson or make a left into the driveway just past Gibson. As I passed those two points, the truck remained behind me. I again waved him around while hugging the white line. The truck remained behind me. At that time, I realized who I was dealing with. I continued to pedal up the hill staying on the white line, taking several glances back over my shoulder. The truck remained directly behind me at a very close distance, much too close for my safety. There was no oncoming traffic. As I crested the hill and began the descent, I again remained on the white line, expecting him to pass at any time. He did not pass. So, I figured that he would wait until the "actual passing" zone. I continued the descent and reached the first passing zone. The truck remained behind at a close distance and did not pass. The driver finally passed as I entered the 2nd passing zone near the 4200 block of Brush College. It was in this passing zone that the driver initiated his pass. The thing that bothered me the most is when he passed he laid on the horn continuously and left me no more than 12 inches of clearance between his truck and me as he accelerated... I stopped immediately as I was a little shaken by the "close call" and tried to call the phone number that Salem Bicycle Club had published for Polk County Sheriff. No one answered. As I was waiting for an answer, I watched the red truck proceed on Brush College, then make a left turn onto Eagle Crest (I had a wide-open view across the farm field to watch him). As I was stopped alongside the road, a man was riding his bike the opposite direction and stopped to see if I needed help. Thus, the filing of the PR incident by both him & myself.
If a person is going to be harassed this incident is a good example on how to deal with it. Stay cool and avoid an injury or confrontation, identify the perpetrator if you can, and call the police.
While it is discouraging to see that the Red Pickup Guy is at it again, an organized effort can make a difference. The Salem Bicycle Club is going to make contact with the Polk County District Attorney to determine whether a criminal prosecution is available. If not, they will use a Citizen Violation Prosecution to bring the Red Pickup Guy back into court. He can be prosecuted for any violation by a citizen including Careless Driving, Illegal Passing, Violation of Sound Equipment, and Following Too Close. While a criminal conviction may not be possible on these facts, at least some consequence will result, including answering in court (again) for dangerous driving behavior, conviction, and a fine.
For more information about the Citizen Initiated Violation Prosecution (ORS 153.058) see Part IV of “Pedal Power: A Legal Guide for Oregon Bicyclists” (6th edition). We will also make information about the case available so it can be used by others. It is a shame that some people aren’t willing to share the road in a cooperative way. And when motorists endanger bicyclists’ lawful right to the road it is time to use the law to enforce our rights to ride without being harassed.