18 August 2009

The law is a harass

I'm not a fan of legislation, over-regulation, warning signs and threats; I'd much rather live in a society where commonsense, a timely quiet word, and shared social discipline prevent bad behaviour before it happens. (If you know of one anywhere, please tell me.)

So I don't quite know what to make of today's story in the US paper The Missourian. Columbia City Council reaffirmed an Ordinance passed in June making it an offense, possibly even an offence, to "harass bicyclists". It is a "Class A misdemeanor", which is clearly a bad thing, to "throw anything at bicyclists, to threaten or knowingly endanger them or to deliberately frighten or disturb them. Violators can be fined $1,000 and/or be sentenced to a year in jail."

On the one hand, it's great to envisage revenge. In the last ten years in London I've had maybe five or six incidents of genuine, unprovoked harassment - a driver spitting at me, a hoodie throwing a stone, a motorcyclist rather bizarrely riding up by my side and leaning firmly on me while in motion, that sort of thing.

But would such a law have made any difference? We know that reporting incidents to the police, even in traceable circumstances such as taxis knocking you off under a CCTV camera, is a waste of time unless someone is killed or, even worse, damage is done to a car.

And there'd have to be a tit-for-tat law to satisfy the car lobby against cyclists shaking their fist or shouting at a driver. And you can bet the press would love the first conviction against that one. Look, for example, at the prominence given to the recent jailing of a pavement cyclist who ran into and killed an old man, compared to the routine ignoring of (a) pavement drivers who kill pedestrians and (b) road drivers who kill cyclists.

To paraphrase the old saw: man kills cyclist - not news; cyclist kills man - news. And we can't legislate against that.


  1. So it's ok to harass tricyclists in Columbia MO ? Hmmm.

  2. They did amend the law to include peds and wheelchairs, but perhaps if you hurled a disused kebab at a unicyclist, a good attorney would be on to that loophole.