For one local bicyclist, August 31st, 2011 will be remembered as the day that the longstanding enmity between drivers and bicyclists became all too personal. On that morning, as he was riding along Rhode Island Avenue on his way to work, a pickup truck pulled alongside him. The driver shouted at him, cursing, and told him to move. The pickup driver then sped up and swerved his vehicle to the right, intentionally striking the bicyclist and sending its rider tumbling to the roadway. The video below is actual helmet-camera footage from the harassment and assault in its original uncut format.
Cyclists face harassment on the region's roadways every day. Despite overall growth in cycling and improvements in cycling infrastructure, some drivers still use their vehicles to threaten, intimidate, harass, and assault bicyclists. While there are laws against most such behavior, police are often unable to respond if they do not see the incident in question. The criminal law fails to address the behavior because the officer was not present, and the lack of monetary damages provides little incentive for civil attorneys to take interest. Thus, the cyclist has no recourse.
This proposed law creates a civil right of action for an assaulted cyclist. And, importantly, it provides for attorneys fees if the cyclist-plaintiff prevails--thereby providing an incentive for attorneys to represent the victim. The law would provide access to justice for cyclists who face intentional threat or assault by motorists, and bring a level of accountability for such dangerous and reckless behavior.
"To specify damages available to a person who, while riding a bicycle, is the victim of assault or battery by a motorist, or who suffers physical injury or property damage as a result of a motorist's negligence, and to provide that evidence of a motorist's conviction for criminal assault is admissible in such a civil case."
Introduced in DC Council on September 20, 2011 by the following sponsors:
Councilmember Tommy Wells (Ward 6), Councilmember Marion Barry (Ward 8), Councilmember Jack Evans (Ward 2), Councilmember Jim Graham (Ward 1), Councilmember Yvette Alexander (Ward 7), Councilmember Mary Cheh (Ward 3), Councilmember Muriel Bowser (Ward 4), Councilmember Michael Brown (At-Large) and Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown.
Favorable Recommendation from the Judicary Committee - November 29, 2012
First Reading & Vote by DC Council - December 4, 2012: APPROVED