But recent case highlights biker vulnerability
By Matt Gomez
Christopher Thompson, a former emergency room physician, was sentenced to five years in prison on Jan. 8 after assaulting two cyclists on Mandeville Canyon Road in Los Angeles.
The verdict, while necessary, is only a small step forward in the protection of bicyclists and does nothing to keep them safe from hostile motorists.
“Every person riding a bicycle upon a highway has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle,” according to California Vehicle Code 21200.
This means, that while riding on any roadway a cyclist is considered to be equal to anybody operating a car. Cyclists have as much a right to be on the road as motorists, and their safety should be a concern to everyone.
Some motorists see cyclists as an obstruction. While a cyclist may just be commuting to work or riding around with friends, their very presence irritates some drivers who feel they don’t belong on the road.
Thompson came across a group of cyclists on his way to work. He claimed, when he asked them to ride in single file so he could pass, they retaliated by flipping him off and swearing. He then narrowly pulled around the group and slammed on his brakes, which caused one of the cyclists to fly through the rear window of Thompson’s car, breaking his nose and front teeth.
A police officer testified Thompson told him he was trying to teach them a lesson.
In a previous confrontation, Thompson had braked hard in front of another group of cyclists, running them off the road.
Thompson’s actions, while extreme, cannot be ignored. He attempted manslaughter and has committed multiple assaults with a deadly weapon — his car.
Many motorists dislike cyclists because they appear to break the laws that motorists must obey. However, cyclists are subject to the same laws as motorists, and a cyclist who is caught running a red light will be ticketed just like a driver.
A cyclist may run a stop sign, while a motorist does a “California stop,” rolling through the stop sign and only braking if they see a cop or an oncoming car.
“More often cyclists are endangered by drivers who are simply too distracted, or otherwise too careless, to even notice the cyclist whose life they have just endangered,” Bob Mionske, attorney and former U.S. Olympic cyclist, wrote in the Los Angeles Times on Jan. 11, 2010.
Cyclists have to be more alert than drivers because a bicycle doesn’t offer the same protection as a car. They don’t have time to be distracted when they are on the road.
A driver who forgets to check their blind spot before turning could easily kill a cyclist. A cyclist who does the same might put a dent in someone’s car but would do more harm to themselves.
In fact, motorists should thank cyclists: If there were less cyclists it would mean more cars on the road. With more cars on the road, there would be more traffic jams and streets would require much more maintenance due to increased use.
Like most people who drive from point “A” to point “B”, cyclists are just trying to get where they have to go, whether that be work or the grocery store. They don’t want to have to worry about being run off the road.