Police Options if You’re Hit or Harassed

Keep in mind that getting justice usually isn’t easy. If it were, I wouldn’t have a whole website about how cyclists DON’T get it. Realize that I can’t tell you anything more beyond what I’ve written here. Also, it stands to reason that if I did know anything more, it would be listed here. Good luck!

What to Do if You’re Harassed

If you were harassed but you weren’t hurt and there were no witnesses besides you, you might as well forget it — it’s unlikely that the police can or will do anything. Don’t expect the police to issue a ticket or arrest someone just because you said they yelled at you. Think about it: Would you want the police to be able to ticket or arrest you if some yahoo lied and said that you committed some crime?

For a misdemeanor charge, the police generally will only take action if:

  • They witnessed the crime themselves, or
  • There is a LOT of evidence of the crime (including several impartial witnesses), or
  • They can get the driver to confess. Ever watch shows like COPS in which police are responding to a misdemeanor call they didn’t witness, and they repeatedly ask the suspect if they did the crime? Notice how if the suspect says No, the police keep asking several times anyway? They’re looking for the confession. They know that a good number of suspects will be nervous or scared and unable to keep lying. If the suspect admits he did it, the police can ticket or arrest.

By the way, you can look up license plates at PublicData.com. (But do NOT attempt to contact the driver if the police are actually investigating the case or charges have been filed.)

What to Do if You’re Hit, or if a loved one was hit & killed

  1. Understand that getting justice usually isn’t easy. Look at it this way: if it were easy to get justice then I wouldn’t have a whole section of my website covering a slew of cases involving injustice. If getting justice were easy, you wouldn’t be reading this. Be prepared to be shocked at how little interest the police might have in helping you.
  2. Educate yourself about the process. Read our Overview of the Process, which explains what usually happens when a cyclist is injured or killed by a motorist. You won’t stand a chance of accomplishing anything if you don’t know how the system usually works.
  3. What to do at the scene. If you’re at the scene of a car-bike collision in which the motorist was at fault, then do these things:
    • Memorize or write down the license plate number and a description of the motorist immediately. (By the way, you can look up license plates at PublicData.com.)
    • Call 911, or tell a specific person to do so. If you don’t have a phone, get a specific person to call 911. Don’t yell, “SOMEBODY call 911,” because then maybe nobody will. If an ambulance is needed, tell your caller to ask for one.
    • Tell the motorist to NOT move his/her vehicle. The final resting position of the vehicle is evidence, and moving it tampers with the evidence. If it’s blocking traffic, too bad; the police will be there soon enough and will authorize moving the vehicle once they’ve seen where it stopped.
    • By the same token, don’t move the bicycle, either.
    • Get the names and phone numbers of all the witnesses. If you are injured and unable to do so, try to get someone else to do this for you.
    • When the police show up, it is imperative that you not annoy them, otherwise their report may not be favorable to you. If they want to talk to the motorist first, let them, and BE QUIET even if the motorist is lying through his or her teeth about what happened — don’t interrupt. Wait until the police are finished with the motorist, and THEN give your statement.
    • Ask the police if the driver will be cited with any traffic violation. If they say no, ask why not. You can disagree with them and try to get them to issue a citation, but do NOT be argumentative or angry, or try to tell them how to do their job. You don’t want to make an enemy out of the officer who’s going to be writing the accident report.
    • If the incident was serious (driver was exceptionally reckless, someone was seriously injured or killed), ask if the driver will be arrested. If they say no, ask why not. (See previous item.)
    • Get the officers’ names and badge numbers.
  4. Get a copy of the accident report. One of the officers on the scene will file an accident report a day or two after the collision. (For Austin collisions, you can get a copy by visiting the police department at 7th & I-35 or by ordering a copy through the mail. It costs $4.00. For more information, call APD’s Report Sales department at 974-5000.)
  5. Find out which detective is assigned to the case. Call the Traffic Office (Austin: 974-5903) and ask to talk to the detective assigned to the case. (The case # is on the accident report.) You might find that they haven’t assigned the case to a detective even weeks after the collision. Even if you are able to talk to the detective, (s)he might not tell you very much. Keep a journal summarizing when you called and what you were told, since you may need this information if you have to complain to higher-ups about the lack of action being taken.
  6. What to do if the police botched the accident report. If the accident report is incomplete or just plain wrong, write a letter explaining exactly what’s wrong and give it to the detective. You might also considering complain to the District Attorney’s office, and to the oversight/citizen’s review board for the police department (if your city has one). This would also be a good time to consult an attorney.
  7. Go outside police department. If the detective can’t tell you anything meaningful, and if it’s been more than a month, then you might consider going outside the police department. If your city has a citizens review board for the police department, go to them. If not, see if you can get any city councilmembers interested in your case. Get help from an attorney if you can.
  8. File for insurance. File a claim with the insurance company of the driver who hit you. If it was a hit and run, you may be covered by the Uninsured Motorist clause on your own auto insurance even if you were bicycling when you got hit. Check your policy.
  9. Consult an attorney. If the police aren’t pressing charges or you can’t get reasonable compensation from the driver or their insurance company, consult an attorney. Many attorneys work on contingency (they get paid part of the settlement, and only if you win your case), so it might not cost you anything out of pocket.Lawyers understand the process and may know how to obtain information that you can’t. They can also be helpful in advising you of your options and giving you a realistic idea of how likely you are to succeed with any of them. Your friendly webmaster is simply an alternative transportation advocate; these web pages are no substitute for professional counsel.

The attorneys we know of with experience in this area are:

  • Willie Schmerler at Scanlan, Buckle, & Young (Austin), who tells us in Nov. 2002 that he’s handled about half a dozen bicycle-related cases in the last decade.
  • Bradley Houston (Austin). A cyclists himself, his website mentions car-bike collisions as one of his specialties. He also represents most clients on contingency.
  • Steven Magas writes, “I’ve handled 50+ bike cases ranging from 3 to 7 figures in value. I also do pro bono work on particularly nasty traffic cases, etc. I handled Trotwood v. Selz, in which a cyclist was ticketed for going 17mph UPHILL in a 45mph zone. He was cited for impeding traffic. I successfully argued that he WAS ‘traffic’ as that is defined in Ohio law. I’ve looked at cases as far away as Hawaii, and will look at a good case anywhere in the US. I will then find a local attorney and stay involved.”
  • Gary Brustin at BicycleLawyer.com.
  • Gerry Oginski (NY)
  • Michael Colbach (Oregon).

Your attorney may want to employ an expert witness. We know of only this one:

Your attorney may also want to check out the book Bicycle Accident Reconstruction and Litigation.

Keep in mind that getting justice usually isn’t easy. If it were, I wouldn’t have a whole website about how cyclists don’t get it. Realize that I can’t tell you anything more beyond what I’ve written here. Also, it stands to reason that if I did know anything more, it would be listed here. Good luck!