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I live near a minor Tennessee town and frequently ride the few miles into town and back on state highways. Part of the route (the less busy part, ironically) has a dedicated bike lane, but it's filled with debris in many parts, so for about the last year, I've been riding about 6-12" left of the white line and moving over a few feet when a car is about to overtake me (except when there's not enough room, in which cases I've been simply holding position, which is arguably wrong). This has worked quite well and I've had very few close calls. In particular, visibility seems to be anecdotally better when riding at the edge of the lane instead of on the shoulder.

Recently, however, a patrolman seems to have gotten in the habit of stopping me every few weeks to tell me I should be riding on the shoulder… by which he apparently means as close to the very edge of the paved area as possible. But according to this Knoxville Regional Bicycle Program PDF, this Bike Law article, and even the official TN Driver's License Manual (p105, or p116 in the PDF), I

  1. don't have to use a dedicated bike lane,
  2. don't have to ride on the shoulder, and
  3. can occupy the entire rightmost (only) lane if I choose to, since it's of substandard width.

Assuming all this is correct, how should I handle this situation? I don't want to pick a fight with police, but neither do I want to pointlessly endanger myself following instructions that aren't legally required.

  • 1
    This question has engendered quite a lot of replies. Please keep us updated with progress and what happens. – Criggie May 9 '16 at 7:17
  • @Criggie: I intend to! – Nathan Tuggy May 9 '16 at 7:23
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    If the same patrolman has stopped you "every few weeks" and hasn't written you a ticket yet, it's because he knows you're not breaking any rules. Most cops in the US are eager to write tickets (especially Highway Patrol), and if he hasn't written one by the second offense then it's because he knows you could fight it and win. Unfortunately, I'd say that he's probably "bored" or "needs something to do" and this lets him flex his authority. This may even be considered harassment. – Unknown Zombie May 9 '16 at 13:21
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    Have you explained your situation (about the debris) to the patrolman? If so, what did he say about it? – Uooo May 10 '16 at 8:13
  • @Uooo: So far I've kept my interactions as short (but reasonably polite) as possible. I haven't tried to explain anything. – Nathan Tuggy May 10 '16 at 20:40
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There is no one size fits all answer to this, except the first point below.

  • When dealing with police, or other authority figures, always behave respectfully.

  • Contact the people responsible for sweeping the road and ask when or if they are going to do it next. Maybe they only sweep when requested.

  • Find out if there's a local bike advocacy group. They would have a history of such contact and possibly have established communication channels. If they exist then talk to them.

  • Failing that, then get dressed in a suit or other best clothes, and drop in to the police station with your bike to talk with the duty officer, probably a Sgt. Explain what the problem is and how you've dealt with it. Also explain that you're not complaining, just would like to not get stopped regularly. Also ask if there's a specialist cycling officer to talk to. And make sure you ask why it's happening, to get the story from their side. Do not create a you-versus-them situation, because they have the power and you lose. Once the discussion is started you can show what a sensible and reasonable citizen you are and get them on your side. It's possible that a motorist or some senior member of the community has complained (not necessarily about you), or that they have received a directive from higher up. I guess the point here is don't go in expecting them to suddenly roll over. Look for common ground and understanding.

  • Invite the police to come for a ride with you. Of course you would take them along that stretch of road.

Good luck.

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    Oh, and remember that these are the people you'll expect to help you when some %$#@ runs you off the road with a pickup truck. – andy256 May 8 '16 at 3:53
  • Whats the last point expected to achieve? – Zaibis May 8 '16 at 20:33
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    @Zaibis If they accept, then social connection, sympathy for the problem the OP is dealing with, sympathy for cyclists in general. If they don't accept, then at least he's ended with a friendly gesture. – andy256 May 8 '16 at 21:03
5

Print out the relevant part of your links, and carry them with you cleanly, so that you can pull them out presentably the next time it happens (but clearly state what you're about to do, in case cop thinks you're getting a weapon out of your bag.)

Politely show him/her the relevant part, and talk nicely about the implications.

If cop wants to be all authorative, then request a formal ticket/citation for "breaking the law" which you will challenge in court using the three pieces of information already provided.

If you can afford it, buy a sports cam (like a gopro or a cheaper alternative) and use it. If you have to challenge a ticket/citation in court then you have video to show exactly how you were riding, rather than relying on the officer's "official report"

NOTE Do not call your video "evidence" Instead call it supporting material. Also let the cop know that the camera was running up till that point. Cop should have dashcam video, and may be wearing a body camera as well, depending on your location.

Above all else KEEP IT CIVIL An officer has huge leeway in the field, and sadly their written version of the incident may carry more weight than yours. Hence the supporting material video, and your information.

Finally, I Am Not A Lawyer, nor in Tennessee, nor am I an American. You should check all this out with a citizen's advice bureau or similar who is in your jurisdiction.

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    @Criggie the point I'm trying to make is that you can be right in ways which are effective towards your goal and in ways that are not. In my experience, people in authority positions do not generally respond well to "you're wrong, here's the reasons why" types of attempts to convince them. – enderland May 8 '16 at 20:54
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    The thing to understand about American cops that they are barely trained and there are barely any requirements to be a cop, so cops in the US are very different from cops in most civilized countries and they will often handle any challenges to their power aggressively. This can be very hard to understand for people from countries where cops have to study in school for at least 4 years and then are in on-site training for another 3 and thus a lower number of 'macho'-types survive this selection process compared to the US average of 15 weeks. (cont.) – David Mulder May 8 '16 at 21:55
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    Point in case: I do not think this is bad advice for any western country outside of the US, but I agree with enderland that in the US this will likely lead to an escalation rather than a quick apology from the cop. – David Mulder May 8 '16 at 21:59
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    Crikey - no wonder Americans have such a low road cycling percentage.. – Criggie May 8 '16 at 22:21
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    I think this is generally bad advice. Deal with people as people first - respect and trust initially. Just talk to him and explain your situation in a civil manner. Don't throw the "rules" at him first. Be friendly and maintain respect. If that doesn't get you anywhere only then start referring to rules and gopro etc. Cops aren't looking for trouble, most of them are looking out for ordinary folks. – a20 May 9 '16 at 3:41

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