I received the following question to me on the Florida Bicycle Law.com website from a rider in Sanibel Island:
“Dear J. Steele: I was given a ticket for running a stop sign. On the ticket the officer noted that I had ‘run four stop signs’ and was giving me a ‘warning’ for running four previous stop signs. At these stops most of the ‘stop bars’ [where the statute requires you to stop] were several feet from the intersecting road and the sign itself, and two of them are at blind turns where you can’t even see the traffic at all if you stay at the stop bar. The statute number I was charged with violating is 316.123(2)(a). I was locked into the pedals on my bike, but I did stop, only briefly. I was doing ‘track stop.’[the technique called where rider just briefly stops without unlocking and putting my feet down]. At all five signs I stopped, but the nice beach cop wasn’t impressed with my explanation. If she has video, I am not sure it will show my momentary stops. What do I do?” Darrel in Sanibel”
My standard answer for most question like this is always “Stop at the stop sign.” It’s the law. We can’t expect cops to enforce the laws against cars if we don’t obey the laws for bicycles. And that’s the stop sign law. However, if you have pedals like my pedals (which are reluctant to let go of my riding shoes resulting in a sore hip occasionally) you don’t want to unlock your shoe and put it down. And that’s the rub here. The statute says a vehicle drive “shall stop” at the stop bar.
Now, before we discuss this, keep in mind “stop” is to completely halt your forward movement. However, the statute doesn’t say how long you have to stop. And there you have the advantage. A momentary stop, called commonly a “track stop” (track bike’s stop) is STILL a stop.
Let me discuss two other legal concepts that come into play. They are “impeachment” and “opportunity to observe.” Impeachment is when you attack a witness’ testimony (I saw him smash that car window before the alarm went off) by saying something which calls into question the witness’ ability to have seen the event (“Mr. Jones, this video tape shows you in a store two blocks away when the car alarm went off”). A witness has to have an “opportunity to observe” to credibly talk about an event. If the witness was too far away or there were a lot of objects in between, or the perspective or angle of view (“I was across the foot ball stadium and I saw him take her watch”) a judge will not allow a witness to testify. That’s the burden of the traffic cop. They have to be close enough, at the right viewing angle and with no distractions between to testify about something like a traffic stop, especially with a small vehicle like a bicycle.
How a police officer can credibly testify and overcome the lack of “opportunity to observe” in a motor vehicle stop case is with a visual cue that I call the “dip.” When a car/truck/motorcycle comes to a stop at a stop sign or light, the vehicle weight causes the front of the vehicle to “dip” down, then the shock absorbers or springs brings it back up. It’s this upward movement of the vehicle’s front the officers look for when they are not close enough to judge whether a motor vehicle stops. While sitting waiting for my client’s turn in traffic hearings when I have represented injured clients during 25 years, I have heard lots of “creative” stories from motor vehicle drivers on the docket in front of me about “how I really did stop judge.” The dispositive question the judge asks the law enforcement to determine the “truth” is: “Officer/Deputy did you see the vehicle’s front go down and up?” If the officer says “no” the driver is guilty. Without that evidence and usually, the officer is too far away to really detect a stop.
With bicyclists law enforcement doesn’t have that visual cue. Help me here: what could the officer look for? Your buttocks went forward and back? I don’t think I’ll be hearing that out of a cop. The cyclist’s body shifted forward and back on the bicycle? Nope. You don’t have shocks on your road bikes and don’t have the mass to make the front of your bike “dip.” There’s no visual cue. The police officers are grasping for some visual cues to overcome lack of “opportunity to observe” and convict the bicyclist for blowing the stop. There really aren’t any…other than the ones you provide.
So how to avoid a ticket?….provide a visual cue. Two suggestions: Keep a foot unlocked from the pedals. When you come to a stop sign, slow down, put your foot out and touch the ground, just briefly at the stop sign. Another visual cue is to put your hand down. Yep, indicate you are stopping with the standard left hand/forearm down to your left side with open palm facing backwards.
Using these two visual cues, you indicate you are stopping and you obtain advantage in the argument of “opportunity to observe.” If the officer has video going, who gets to see? The judge or traffic court magistrate. What does she see? The video of you, sticking your foot out and indicating you are stopping, just like the front of your bicycle went down and up. What does the judge hear from you? “Judge, there’s my foot went out to balance myself judge …when I stopped….. there’s my hand indicating a stop.” Just like the front of the motor vehicle dipping and coming up at the stop, you gave a visual indiction you stopped. There’s your visual cue, for the cop and the judge. When it’s your time and the judge/magistrate asks you “did you stop?” Your answer? “Yes, I stopped judge.” [for extra effect add: “I am a vulnerable user of the roadways and don’t have the protection of a car surrounding me. I always stop.”] The judge’s ruling? Bang goes the gavel. “Not guilty.” Case dismissed. (Or at least that’s what should happen.)
Be safe out there.
If you have a question about your legal rights, write me on FloridaBicycleLaw.com. I’ll be happy to answer your questions.