Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Race, poverty and tail lights

A recent high profile murder trial has Savannah Morning News readers writing letters to the editor about race and class divides. This morning's paper featured a letter from Romell Bryant-Mitchell titled "Poverty, not race, biggest social problem." It contained this interesting observation:
I have seen black men stopped because there was no tail light on their bicycles, but I have seen white men pass officers with no tail light and no one even blinks.

I agree with Bryant-Mitchell. Sort of. I have never seen a police officer stop a white man on a bicycle. For any reason. But then again, I have never seen a police officer stop a black man on a bicycle. For any reason. My observations tell me that Savannah's men, women, girls and boys are free to ride against traffic, run stop signs, disregard traffic signals and transport passengers on their handlebars in full view of law enforcement personnel. Want to travel at night without lights or reflectors of any kind? Terrific.

There are two exceptions to this cycling amnesty policy.
First, if you are hit by a car while operating a bicycle in an unsafe and unlawful fashion, you may receive a traffic citation. But not always. In October, a cyclist found himself underneath an SUV after he blew a stop sign. But he didn't get a ticket. From a Savannah Morning News story:

Officers investigated the crash and found the bicyclist was at fault because he didn't stop at the stop sign. However, police do not plan to charge him, Wilson said.

"Usually the purpose of giving citations is to get people's attention. It serves as a means of compliance to the laws," Wilson said. "In traffic collisions involving pedestrians or cyclists, it usually only takes one incident of that magnitude to ensure future compliance."

The second exception, as mentioned in an earlier post, involves local college students who are sometimes popped with $100 fines for riding on sidewalks.

Why should I care? I guess I shouldn't. Only I can't help but think that the lawlessness of many cyclists fuels anti-bicycle sentiments in the general population.


Dre said...

Strict enforcement of any laws would be helpful. I know that the last few months in Savannah I did not follow many of the rules of the road. I'm black and they didn't stop me, and I lived downtown but rode through most of the city.

That being said, having lived in some parts of the city that are not normally visited, there is a double standard. It's just easier not to complain about it than it is to make it an issue. I'm hoping that things get better before they get worse.

Dan said...

I love that photo. My town could use some of those 'wrong way' signs (although that one doesn't seem to be helping).