Council Will Consider Resolution to Give Cyclists Recourse Against Unsafe and Aggressive Drivers without SMPD Involvement


(Caption: The idea of an anti-harassment ordinance may be new for Santa Monica, but the need isn’t. Former Santa Monica Next editor Gary Kavanagh avoided a dooring in 2011 and still had time to capture this image of the door open in the bike lane. But without police present, had no recourse.)

Update, 3/20/24 – The motion to ask staff to create a motion passed 6-0 with one member not present.

Cyclists, get your go-pro’s ready.

A motion by Councilmember Jesse Zwick and co-sponsored by Caroline Torisis and Gleam Davis that will be heard at tonight’s meeting of the Santa Monica City Council would direct staff to create a “bicycle anti-harassment ordinance” for the Council to approve. (Agenda, Item 16I) The motion would be based on one already in effect in the City of Los Angeles which is designed to give bicyclists recourse against over aggressive and dangerous motorists that doesn’t involve police action.

“Currently, Santa Monica has no law protecting cyclists from aggressive and dangerous driver behavior,” Zwick explains. 

In 2011, the Los Angeles City Council passed the first bicycle anti-harassment ordinance in the country on a unanimous vote. It was quickly signed into law by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Both Villaraigosa and Councilmember Bill Rosendahl who authored the bill and shepharded it through the City Council Transportation Committee that he chaired had recently taken up bicycling and noted that even though they were highly-visible city officials they felt vulnerable riding on city streets.

It takes a cyclist to understand the safety concerns of cyclists, and Zwick himself is a bike commuter.

“Los Angeles has had one on the books for over a decade. While this is no substitute for the infrastructure improvements we desperately need to guarantee safety for all road users,” he continues. “My hope is that it will deter dangerous behavior by providing cyclists with a form of recourse when they experience willful harassment.”

The biggest question that most cyclists, and undoubtedly some lawmakers, might have is “what does this law actually do, and how does it work.” When the Los Angeles law was first passed, I asked that question to litigator Ross Hirsch, who penned a thorough response for Streetsblog.

“The new law, however, allows cyclists to sue drivers in civil court and, if successful, obtain remedies that previously would have been very difficult if not impossible to obtain—even if a cyclist could find a lawyer willing to take what are often smaller dollar-value cases.  To be clear, the law does not criminalize anything, and it does not add any new criminal laws to the books.  It is merely a recognition that criminal enforcement of harassment and battery laws that currently outlaw certain behavior is essentially non-existent given that LAPD and the City and District Attorneys are government agencies of limited resources (time and money).” Hirsch wrote at the time. 

Switch out the letters “LAPD” for “SMPD” in his article and many local cyclists would be shaking their heads in agreement. The presence of police is often enough to deter the behavior of even the most reckless drivers which is good in one sense, but also means the police aren’t around when the worst behavior happens. The purpose of the ordinance, if approved tonight and then passed later in the year, is to give cyclists some recourse when the worst occurs and the police aren’t around.

If a cyclist witnesses or is the victim of harassment or illegal- and unsafe- driving the cyclist would be able to bring suit against the driver in civil court for damages up to $1,000 per incident.

“We are happy to see increasing and overdue momentum around protecting vulnerable road users. We cannot expect people to walk and bike if they don’t feel protected or safe from harassment by vehicle divers. (Which happens all too often!),” writes Cynthia Rose, on behalf of Santa Monica Spoke.

“Streets are public and belong to us all —This type of ordinance can help send the strong message that people walking and biking have rights to be safe in public. With that said the ordinance must have teeth to be meaningful. We look forward to seeing a strong draft ordinance for the council to adopt. Let’s lead the charge for safe and inclusive public streets – where everyone feels safe and protected.”

Damien Newton
Damien Newton
Damien is the executive director of the Southern California Streets Initiative which publishes Santa Monica Next, Streetsblog Los Angeles, Streetsblog San Francisco, Streetsblog California and Longbeachize.

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