Category Archives: bikelaw

Bicycles are not motor vehicles, and why it matters

Actually, we should have said: riders of bicycles are not bound by rules that apply only to drivers of motor vehicles…

It’s helpful to note that the “rules of the road” apply not to vehicles, or bikes, but rather to the people operating these things. A typical example is the rule for what to do at a stop sign, §28-855(B). “A driver of a vehicle approaching a stop sign shall stop…”. [1]

In Arizona, bicycles are, by definition, not vehicles; nor are they motor vehicles. Here are those definitions §28-101:

§28-101. Definitions
...
58. "Vehicle" means a device in, on or by which a person or property is or may be transported or drawn on a public highway, excluding devices moved by human power or used exclusively on stationary rails or tracks.
33. "Motor vehicle":
(a) Means either:
   (i) A self-propelled vehicle.
   (ii) For the purposes of the laws relating to the imposition of a tax on motor vehicle fuel, a vehicle that is operated on the highways of this state and that is propelled by the use of motor vehicle fuel.
(b) Does not include a motorized wheelchair, an electric personal assistive mobility device or a motorized skateboard...

So, if a bicycle is not a vehicle, why does a cyclist have to stop at stop signs? Simple, because of a law helpfully titled Applicability of traffic laws to bicycle riders§28-812,

§28-812. Applicability of traffic laws to bicycle riders
A person riding a bicycle on a roadway or on a shoulder adjoining a roadway is granted all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this chapter and chapters 4 and 5 of this title, except special rules in this article and except provisions of this chapter and chapters 4 and 5 of this title that by their nature can have no application.

 

This is a cyclist’s fundamental right to the road; the equal of driver’s.

Note well that it refers specifically to the rights and duties of the driver of vehicle — and NOT the driver of MOTOR vehicle, in fact the word motor does not appear at all in 28-812.

It might surprise you to note that the phrase “motor vehicle” occurs only a handful of places in ARS Title 28, Transportation, with respect to how a driver must operate a vehicle. By far, most driver’s duties refer, as in the stop sign example above, simply to vehicle.

Some references are incidental; lane and speed restrictions on motor vehicles weighing over 26,000 pounds (§28-736, §28-709). Another was intended to set minimum passing clearance when a motor vehicle overtakes a bicycle (§28-735). Two germane examples for cyclists are following distance, and impeding traffic.

§28-730, “The driver of a motor vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent…”, without the word motor in this statute, pacelining would likely be illegal. Since reasonable people would probably agree that a couple of inches is an inappropriately small following distance.

§28-704(A), “A person shall not drive a motor vehicle at such a slow speed as to impede or block the normal and reasonable movement of traffic…”. This is what I refer to as the cyclist’s second most fundamental right to the road, because if this statute were to apply to cyclists, then they would in effect be not allowed to use any road where traffic even might be impeded; regardless of number of lanes, width, presence or absence of a bike lane, or anything else. There is some detailed minutia [2] revolving around what is meant by the “normal and reasonable movement” but that is immaterial to cyclists, since this section is inapplicable to them.

Likewise, §28-701(E) “A person shall not drive a MOTOR vehicle at a speed that is less than the speed that is reasonable and prudent under existing conditions”,  never applies to bicyclists.

The point is that the phrase motor vehicle is used sparingly and deliberately to apply only to drivers of that type of vehicle, reflecting clear legislative intent. In the case of 28-704(A) to allow cyclists to use all roads even though motorists might sometimes be impeded (with some caveats: There is a specific allowance for prohibiting bicycles on controlled access highways, and other roads on a case-by-case basis).

[1] There are actually several variations besides “driver of a vehicle” see the-driver-of-a-vehicle for a fuller taxonomy.

[2] A small number of states, but not AZ, (see chart below) have an impeding statute that omits the word “motor” making it necessary to show that a cyclist’s use of a roadway is a “normal and reasonable” movement of traffic in order to not be liable for impeding. This was done successfully, e.g in the Trotwood v. Selz case, in a published ruling.

Note that persons riding animals or driving animal drawn vehicles are also drivers of vehicles. See 28-625

Elliot Road, eastbound east of Priest Drive, City of Tempe. Sign placed by the city reminds users to "Share the Road". Posted speed limit 45mph. Even the fastest bicyclists will be traveling well below the posted speed limit. This arterial, like most, has lanes which are "too narrow to share safely side by side", and as such, cyclists going straight ahead are advised to ride near the center of the right-most through lane. Motorists wishing to overtake must change lanes (at least partially) to pass legally and safely.
Elliot Road, eastbound east of Priest Drive, City of Tempe. Sign placed by the city reminds users to “Share the Road”. Posted speed limit 45mph. Even the fastest bicyclists will be traveling well below the posted speed limit. This arterial, like most, has lanes which are “too narrow to share safely side by side”, and as such, cyclists going straight ahead are advised to ride near the center of the right-most through lane. Motorists wishing to overtake must change lanes (at least partially) to pass legally and safely.

That motor vehicle statutes don’t apply to bicyclists needed to be litigated for a number of cases where Flagstaff PD cited a cyclist for 28-701E.  The City of Flagstaff’s assistant city prosecutor, Mr. Brown as detailed in this trial transcript; the prosecutor at closing said “MR. BROWN: For Count B, 28-701E, (indiscernible) read the statute, State would have to agree that that statute seems to apply strictly to motor vehicles, since it’s not a moped or anything like that, it’s strictly a bicycle, the statue would not be applicable…”

Other US States

"green" states specify that impeding law applies only to motorists
“green” states specify that impeding law applies only to motorists

According to iamtraffic :

In 42 US states the law against “impeding traffic” only applies to motor vehicle drivers who impede (not merely delay) other drivers by driving too slowly, typically on freeways. Sadly, 6 US states do NOT exclude bicyclists from the provisions of this law and police sometimes use it as a way to harass cyclists who operate as drivers.

The caselaw from Ohio (where, as noted above in the iamtraffic graphic), where bicyclists are not exempted from the general impeding law, is illuminating. In the published opinion of State v. Selz [2000], 139 Ohio App.3d 947 the appeals court found an operator, in this case a bicyclist, cannot be in violation of the impeding statute as long as the operator’s speed is reasonable for the type of device in use. “We conclude that a bicyclist is not in violation of the ordinance when he is traveling as fast as he reasonably can”. The reasoning is based on a Georgia Appeals court opinion Lott v. Smith (1980), 156 Ga. App. 826 275 S.E.2d 720. that a corn combine (a motor vehicle, by the way) cannot be held in violation of the impeding rule for traveling 17mph on a road with a much higher speed limit and despite the fact that other traffic was clearly being impeded becasue the combine was traveling as fast as is reasonable for a corn combine. Below is the synopsis of the Selz opinion, with

In either [meaning, the Selz/bicycle case, or the Georgia corn combine] case, holding the operator to have violated the slow speed statute would be tantamount to excluding operators of these vehicles from the public roadways, something that each legislative authority, respectively, has not clearly expressed an intention to do.

All this means that Arizona law, even if mis-applied to bicyclists (who are not motorized vehicle. Or for that matter, say, a slow-moving truck driver) could not be held in violation because the legislature has not banned bicyclists (or slow moving trucks) from public roads.  Due to the persuasive precedents set by Selz and Lott.

See also the tasering case of Tony Patrick involving failure to obey an officer’s (unlawful) order.

An Oregon Court of Appeals upheld a finding of responsible against a cyclist who was one of a group that had intentionally stopped traffic as part of a “critical mass” protest.  State v. Potter 57 P.3d 944 (2002) 185 Or.App. 81
In Arizona, the appropriate charge for the circumstances would be 13-2906. Obstructing a highway or other public thoroughfare.

UVC

The UVC equivalence to ARS:

 

UVC ARS
§11-1202—Traffic laws apply to persons on bicycles and other human powered vehiclesEvery person propelling a vehicle by human power or riding a bicycle shall have all of the rights and all of the duties applicable to the driver of any other vehicle under chapters 10 and 11, except as to special regulations in this article and except as to those provisions which by their nature can have no application. §28-812. Applicability of traffic laws to bicycle ridersA person riding a bicycle on a roadway or on a shoulder adjoining a roadway is granted all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this chapter and chapters 4 and 5 of this title, except special rules in this article and except provisions of this chapter and chapters 4 and 5 of this title that by their nature can have no application.
 §11-805 – Minimum speed regulation(a) No person shall drive a motor vehicle at such a slow speed as to impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic except when reduced speed is necessary for safe operation or in compliance with law.  28-704. Minimum speed limits;  A. A person shall not drive a motor vehicle at such a slow speed as to impede or block the normal and reasonable movement of traffic except when either of the following applies…
 ? can’t find, perhaps the UVC has no slower than R&P? 28-701. Reasonable and prudent speed;E. A person shall not drive a motor vehicle at a speed that is less than the speed that is reasonable and prudent under existing conditions unless the speed that is reasonable and prudent exceeds the maximum safe operating speed of the lawfully operated implement of husbandry.
   

 

Principles of statutory construction and interpretation

This is a pretty good roundup of the principles, as they appear in  U.S. Parking Sys v. City of Phoenix, 160 Ariz. 210, 211, 772 P.2d 33, 34 (App. 1989)

We begin our examination … by noting certain principles of statutory construction and interpretation…

Where a term is used in one provision of a statute and omitted from another, that term should not be read into the section where it is omitted. Dunlop v. First Nat’l Bank of Arizona, 399 F. Supp. 855 (D.C.Az. 1975).

28-704A (for example) uses the term ‘motor’ while 28-812 does not. The term ‘motor’ should not be read into 28-704.

 

An unambiguous statute should be interpreted to mean what it plainly states unless an absurdity results. Holding v. Industrial Comm’n of Arizona, 139 Ariz. 548, 679 P.2d 571 (App. 1984).

28-704A unambiguously applies specifically to drivers of motor vehicles.

 

While it is true that title headings in statutes are not part of the law… , we can nevertheless refer to titles and captions for indications of legislative intent. State v. Superior Court, 128 Ariz. 535, 627 P.2d 686 (1981).

 

When a statute sets forth the things on which it will operate, it will be construed to exclude from its effect those not expressly mentioned. Roller Village, Inc. v. Superior Court, 154 Ariz. 195, 741 P.2d 328 (App. 1987).

28-704A operates on drivers of motor vehicle. All others are excluded.

 

Unless otherwise defined, words in a statute will be interpreted as taking their ordinary common meaning. Fagner, supra; Harrelson v. Industrial Comm’n of Arizona, 144 Ariz. 369, 697 P.2d 1119 (App. 1984)

Cycling on One-way streets

Arizona lacks the exception to the ride-on-the-right rule that allows cyclists to ride on the left side of one-way streets.

According to BicycleDriving.com’s Guide to Improving Laws , only 4 states (AZ, SD, TN, UT) lack this exception.

Arizona’s ride-on-the-right rule is §28-815. Arizona has the other usual exceptions: normal speed of traffic; overtaking; left turn; hazardous road conditions; and lane too narrow.

Folding bikes and the law

Arizona Republic article, Nov 9, 2008: Folding bikes win new fans on region’s packed buses.

Something to watch out for: although most folding bikes have wheels larger than 16″, the most compact folders can be  smaller.The most common wheel size for folders in the US is 20″, e.g. it appears all Bike Fridays have 20″ wheels.

A “device” with a wheel that is not “more than sixteen inches in diameter” (see §28-101(6) for the whole rundown, bikes must have two or three wheels, and only the largest wheel matters) is not a bicycle, legally speaking.

So, operating such a device is a legal grey area. Not likely to cause any problems, but in the event of a collision it could get ugly.

Do “points” apply to bicyclists?

As of Spring 2018 legislative session the answer is simple: no. (for before that, skip below to “historical info…”)

SB1455 makes explicit that infractions incurred while riding a bicycle cannot affect the rider’s drivers license, nor can it be used to affect motor vehicle insurance rates. It modifies §28-812, the bicyclist applicability statute. Continue reading Do “points” apply to bicyclists?

Mejia guilty of neg hom and hit-and-run in death of Walmsley

This is remarkable only in that the county attorney sought negligent homicide charges…

From an earlier azcentral story “On May 2, 2007, Mejia was arrested after deputies obtained a search warrant and gathered evidence from a Ford F-350 pickup truck linked to the hit-and-run suspect” .  The article doesn’t mention any allegations of evidence tampering(?).

Arizona Superior Court Docket CR2007-006287,  All case minutes. Here’s the Warrant to search the large 2007 pickup truck involved. Sentencing Minute from 6/17/2008 — I guess fairly standard, the charges are deemed “non-dangerous” and thus you can get a light sentence the negligent homicide is an F4 (class 4 felony; smaller number are more serious). One oddity was the hit-and-run was listed as an F3, whereas it should have been an F2 (because the defendant clearly caused the collision by driving on the wrong side of the road).

There are a lot of case minutes, including a request to be released early from probation, and numerous requests to revoke probation; finally in the 4/18/2014 minute “Defendant admits violation of probation for condition 1” (whatever that is, i can’t find it in the sentencing minute). It doesn’t seem like anything bad happened.

Mejia TR-200701627 speeding 2/28/2007 in Avondale Muni; dismissed w/driving school; a couple of months before he caused the fatal crash.

These cases from 2013/14 seem to have something only to do with the original case’s restituation, not a new criminal beef:  CR2013-462094 and CR2014-110154

 

==========================================
Avondale man gets 3 years in cyclist’s hit-run death
==========================================
Arizona Republic, The (Phoenix, AZ)-June 20, 2008
Author: Brent Whiting, The Arizona Republic

An 18-year-old Avondale man has been sentenced to three years in prison for killing a cyclist in a hit-and-run traffic crash.

Victor Manuel Mejia, who pleaded guilty to charges of negligent homicide and leaving the scene of a serious injury accident, also was placed on a five-year probationary term.

The sentence was handed down last Friday in Maricopa County Superior Court after relatives of Mejia and the victim, Bob Walmsley, were offered a chance to address the judge.

Walmsley, 65, of Sun City West, was killed April 9, 2007, while he and other cyclists were pedaling on 99th Avenue in the Southwest Valley, south of Interstate 10 near Southern Avenue.

He was hit by the driver of a pickup truck who was traveling north on 99th Avenue and was trying to pass another vehicle. The driver fled after striking Walmsley, according to sheriff’s investigators.

On May 2, 2007, Mejia was arrested after deputies obtained a search warrant and gathered evidence from a Ford F-350 pickup truck linked to the hit-and-run suspect.

Walmsley, a cycling enthusiast, moved to Arizona in 2000 after retiring in California as an engineer and computer programmer.