The Vicious Cycle of Anti-Cyclist Bias
From the National Bike Summit:
At a panel on cyclists’ rights, Bob Mionske, a Portland, Oregon attorney and founder of Bicycle Law, offered a cogent explanation of the obstacles cyclists face when it comes to public perception, police enforcement, and holding motorists accountable for injuring and killing cyclists. “Anti-cyclist bias is endemic in the police, the court system, and the media,” he said, then described how bias in each arena reinforces bias in the others.
Mionske talked about three examples from his practice:
- A 19 year-old cyclist stops next to a cement truck. Truck turns right and crushes her. Headline the next day reads: “Bike slams into cement truck.” Police said the driver couldn’t see her, didn’t issue a ticket.
- A rider going downhill in the bike lane gets crushed under the rear wheels of a right-turning garbage truck. Cops determined that the driver had violated the cyclist’s right-of-way, but he couldn’t perceive it. They didn’t issue a ticket, even though the sideview mirror was held together with duct tape and bungee cord. Media portrayed it as a “cars vs. bikes” story and ran file footage of a bicyclist on a roundabout, nothing from the scene of the crime. “It’s a feedback loop,” said Mionske. “The message to society is: Someone died on a bike, but it was probably his fault.”
- A mother called, said her son was hit by an F150 truck. Son was issued two tickets for running a light and had $25,000 in medical bills. He had front lights, back lights, and a helmet at the time of the crash. On the scene, the officer asked the cyclist what happened, but the cyclist
was in shock and couldn’t remember. News said, “Wrong way cyclist hits truck, driver has heart attack,” but it turned out that the driver was entering a diabetic coma at the time of the crash. Media wasn’t interested when the case against the cyclist was dismissed.
“This just poisons the mind of the public, and the public is who is empaneled in juries,” said Mionske. “What you see is, anti-cycling bias starts with cops, is reinforced by the media, and is perpetuated in the courts.”
“We need to keep the media accountable, and we need to talk to the police,” he said. “But it starts with enforcement.”