Sunday, November 18, 2007

Review: Bicycling and The Law

Bob Mionske is a cycling lawyer, and writes the Legally Speaking column for VeloNews.

In addition to being a collection of all the columns in the magazine, this book collects many additional tit-bits about cycling that you might not have known before.

For instance:
  • If I were to put together a bike ride to the coast with a bunch of friends, am I liable if anyone was injured?
  • Supposed my bike was stolen and then found in a pawn shop. Am I legally obligated to pay the pawn shop for my bike?
  • If I get pulled over by a cop for riding on the road too slowly, can I fight the ticket?
  • Am I obligated to wear brightly colored clothing on my bike? If I'm not and am involved in a crash, what happens to me legally?
This book answers all these questions in eight parts. First, Mionske introduces you to your rights as a cyclists, then he explains what the legal definitions of duties and rights are. He then covers cycling accidents and hazards. This is the biggest portion of the book, and he breaks it down with an analysis of all car-bike collisions, what you can do about preventing them, and how cycling infrastructure may or may not lead to such crashes. The analysis is detailed, for instance, telling you that 1.3% of all car-bike collisions are caused by the motorist overtaking the cyclist, and that 11% of the motorists involved had elevated blood alcohol levels (unfortunately, 17% of cyclists involved also had elevated blood alcohol levels). As a league cycling instructor (LCI#1040), I have seen the data presented before, but the level of detail is excellent, and Mionske's legal perspectives are very welcome. I will try to integrate this information into my Road 1 class the next time I teach it.

Following those last two chapters, Mionske covers insurance and how much you need (most people are under insured, which means that your insurance might be forced to pick up the slack, so you should at least be adequately insured). He rails (rightly so) against the insurance industry for only offering automobile-oriented insurance, and not insurance that covers cyclists specifically. He then goes on to discuss forms of harassment to cyclists (a surprising amount of it done by law enforcement officers, in his experience), what cyclists can do about it (it turns out that lobbying and publicly embarrassing those involved is surprisingly effective). The last three chapters cover bicycle theft, defective products, and liability waivers.

All through the book, Mionske does not hide his biases --- he believes cyclists are blatantly discriminated against (something that most cyclists will agree with), and that the legal system can be an effective recourse, though getting law enforcement officers, courts, and juries to work effectively for a discriminated-against minority would seem to be a big challenge. He writes very effectively in his advocacy of these positions, and to my mind, I think he has succeeded. He's even convinced me that tort-reform is something extremely anti-consumer, which given the prevailing opinion of lawyers that most people have, is no mean feat.

The entire book is written in a clear, precise, and easy to comprehend fashion. At no point does Mionske descend into legalese without providing you with the context and an explanation of what is going on. The case studies in particular are fantastic. Some of them are funny, some of them are sad, but all of them are instructive. Where the law has been undefined, Mionske doesn't hesitate to say so, and one gets the impression that he would relish an opportunity to test those areas, if an appropriate case ever turned up.

I paid Amazon.com prices for this book, but now that I've read it, I would have willingly paid full price. This is a book that should be on every cyclist's bookshelf. Read it once to get an idea of what is covered, and keep it easily accessible as a reference. Highly recommended!
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