Time for Bicyclists To Be Held Accountable?

Photo by sha.md.gov

I love to ride a bike.

Riding a bike is great exercise, a wonderful leisurely activity and excellent for your health ... except when the rider has sub-standard cycling skills or is not doing his best to “share the road.”  My biggest fear is hitting a cyclist who is not following the rules of the road, which happens way too often.  I stop at a stop sign, then accelerate and whoosh - as I’m getting ready to turn,  a bike flies past unaware of my acceleration. In Georgetown it’s a daily occurrence.

Accidents happen on the road when someone does something unexpected.  We need better education so that motorists and cyclists know what the laws and expectations are. For instance, the“Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) last month posted nine rectangular signs stating "Bicycles May Use Full Lane.” SHA plans to post similar signs on 18 state highways in Montgomery and Prince George's counties.”

The signs  "warn motorists that bicycles may be operating anywhere within a traffic lane," according to SHA Administrator Melinda Peters.”  The purpose - to ensure that drivers and cyclists have the same expectation.

As the commerce of Capital Bike Share and interest in cycling continues to grow, there are far more bicyclists on the roads than ever before. In fact, CBS  promotes they have over 1,670 plus bikes  at over 175 area locations.  It's time for cyclists to be held accountable in the same way motorists are, for breaking the law, running stop signs, exceeding the speed limit and not giving pedestrians and other vehicles the right of way ... not to mention impeding the flow of traffic.

The varying levels of  cyclists’ skills,  from what you’d expect of the professional courier vs the novice bike renter - contribute to the problem.  Lack of skills result in dangerous activity such as running stop signs, which in turn causes drivers to dodge cyclists, other drivers and oblivious pedestrians texting and listening to music ... all, a recipe for transportation disaster. 

I’m shocked there aren’t more accidents.  I propose that current laws be modified to require that cyclists be licensed, wear helmets and obey the same laws as automobile drivers, as appropriate.  At the very least, cyclists should be required to complete a certain level of training to ride on city streets.

Out of curiosity I googled, “statistics on bike accidents.” 

Here are a few recent bike accidents facts and statistics from the website of the Law Offices of Lewis and Tompkins:

• Each year, an estimated 67,000 cyclists visit an emergency room with a bicycle accident head injury.

• A biker not wearing a helmet is 14 times more likely to die in a bicycle accident.

• A bike rider is killed every six hours in the United States.

• The majority of people killed in bicycle accidents are male. The average age of a bike accident victim is 40.

• According to the National Survey of Bicyclist and Pedestrian Attitudes and Behavior, only 50 percent of cyclists wear their helmets occasionally and only 35 percent wear their helmets at all times.

• Three out of four fatal bicycle accidents involve deadly head injuries.

As bicycles become more and more popular out of the economic need or the desire to save energy and get fit, we need to place more responsibility on cyclists to become better trained on riding on city streets and more accountable for their own safety and the safety of others who may be adversely affected by their poor riding habits.

For information on acquiring the pocket guide to D.C. bike laws, visit DDOT

Written by Janice Ockershausen, owner of Best Bark Media, a Georgetown business

0 Comments For This Article


Well said! All any law enforcement officer has to do to witness (and catch) these reckless scofflaws is just sit at 31st & K (under the Whitehurst Freeway) in Georgetown during ANY morning rush hour. Daily-- not almost daily, but daily I witness or am involved in a near miss because some jackass idiot on a bike has come whizzing out of nowhere after completely running a stop sign. I then screech to a halt inches from the jerk, then he has the audacity to give me the finger or flip my side mirror back and yell an obscenity at ME! Plus they refuse to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, including children and the disabled! I too am shocked that more of these cycling morons aren’t seriously injured or killed in Georgetown alone. Something MUST be done. The DC treasurer could make a small fortune if the police would only start handing out moving violations to these lawbreaking dopes!

Ian Cooper

Cyclists' poor riding habits kill perhaps 5 to 10 people per year worldwide. Motorists kill a million. When are folks like you going to demand that motorists be held accountable for their poor driving?


60% of fatal bike/ped crashes are the result of illegal driving behavior, so clearly mandatory helmet laws and cyclist licensing are the answer...christ.

Michael H.

Since you presumably travel on the public roads frequently, you are no doubt aware that many car drivers do not follow the rules of the road either. Yes, some cyclists do speed through stop signs and red lights. But I see car drivers do the same thing, almost every day. Many also speed into right turns on red, without bothering to slow down or look to see if there are pedestrians in the crosswalk on the side street. Many car drivers travel at unsafe speeds, whether it's far above the posted speed limit or faster than advisable when there are pedestrians, cyclists and other cars in the immediate area.

I've also seen many car and truck drivers try to force pedestrians out of crosswalks, even though the pedestrians have a WALK signal and were in the crosswalk well before the car approached the intersection. I also see this behavior nearly every day.

If you are going to harp on cyclists to respect the rules of the road, it's only fair to ask that you expect the same from car drivers. There are quite a number of drivers who do not seem to bother with traffic laws or what should be common sense. And I didn't even mention the fact that a significant percentage of drivers these days are texting or websurfing on their phones when they should be keeping their eyes on the road. Again, this is behavior that I witness on a regular basis in the greater D.C. area.


Yes, there are cyclists who are involved in fatal accidents every year -- generally, when they are hit by a car operated in a negligent manner. I don't see how requiring cyclists to be licensed will stop that. Drivers are required to be licensed, and there are over 30,000 fatalities in car accidents every year in the US. Requiring cyclists to obtain licenses, and state governments to administer licensing programs, will be pretty costly. (What does it cost to operate the DMV every year? And how are the police going to see that every cyclist has a license? Random stops? Please.) And cyclists are already required to follow the rules of the road. Not all do, but neither do drivers and the law hasn't stopped that.

Simon Elliott

I agree that there is a problem with poor cycling skills, rude behavior, etc, and that this can be a risk to other users of the streets. However, I feel that this article is pointing to one small issue as a way to hide the bigger problem, which is that the most dangeour road users are drivers of motorized vehicles. US census data for 2009: 10.8 million accidents, 35900 deaths, including 5,300 pedestrians. The number of bikers that kill pedestrians: not even a rounding error.

As for "accountability" and "licensing" it is extremely difficult to prosecute vehicular homicide or manslaughter unless there is evidence of DUI. It is similarly difficult to revoke licenses even for multiple DUI's, accidents, or age.

For example, last year college student Nathan Krasnopoler was legally riding in a bike lane during the day when he was killed by a driver whose age suggested she should not be driving. She did voluntarily give up her license, but was not prosecuted. In 2010, a student searching for her dropped cell phone killed a cyclist and was fined a few hundred dollars.

As I drove to work today, with all the children on their first day of school, I was very aware that I could kill any one of them. Cyclists can and should behave better, but pointing to the speck in their eye while there is a log in drivers is both disingenuous and distracts from the much bigger problem of motorized vehicles.


Wouldn't it be the day where every cyclist, motorist and pedestrian followed the traffic laws in DC? Of course, the reality is far different. We will all walk out of our offices and observe people blocking the box, some cyclist running a stop sign or red light and plenty of pedestrians jaywalking among traffic. Does it make any one of those idiots representative of the whole? Of course not.

However, I am a little confused. Why would a cyclist assume a driver is not going to accelerate from a stop at a stop sign? I mean, Janice explains she anticipates the worst case scenario, yet seemingly thinks a cyclist would not do so. It seems more like a rant, particularly given the citation of fatality statistics. The fatalities in this area have stemmed from vehicles running over the person at a higher than stop-sign-to-go rate of acceleration.

Everyone should follow the law, always, but let's not pretend that all represented by the part otherwise we will have no drivers, no pedestrians and no cyclists.

Nik Dow

Time for motorists to be held accountable.

How about the stats on how many head injuries were caused by collisions with motor vehicles?

Why should cyclists have to wear helmets when the danger is caused by motorists? Fix the problem, don't blame the victim.

Marshall Walter Taylor

Ms Ockershausen I am glad you find cycling a healthy leisure time activity. I believe the more cyclist on the road the better. Some of us choose cycling not just for sport or for leisure, but for transportation not out of necessity nor for political motivations but simply because we prefer it.

When I cycle to work every day I pay close attention to everything going on around me. This is because it is rare that a day passes when I have not been compelled to take evasive action to prevent grievous bodily harm to my person, not as a result of an unlicensed pedestrian or cyclist, but by a motorist who presumably is trained and licensed.

I would be happy to see cycle safety classes made compulsory in schools as part of the drivers education regime. Cyclists would surely benefit from this but more importantly motor vehicle operators would be made more thoroughly aware of their obligation to share the road with other legitimate road users.


The Washcycle blog commented on the sheer stupendous stupidity of this essay.

When a mere 50 percent of the cars on the road are obeying the law, bicyclists can then be taken to task for not doing so...

She is a transportation bigot, pure and simple. She has no idea what a street is or what it should be. She has no idea what "transportation" can and should mean; and she hasnt a clue as to how the car has been subsidized and privileged. The car has done more to impoverish American life than any other technology...that's why gas, cars and roads are all SUBSIDIZED!!!!

This writer doesnt know how and why the roads and laws for CARS have evolved as they have. Why in the hell should bikes play by car rules?....

READ: Cotton Seiler: Republic of Drivers; and Traffic; and the Geography of Nowhere.

Take a trip to a real democracy like Copenhagen and observe...

The writer of this essay is a moron.


Police do not meaningfully enforce traffic laws. A ZILLION studies have shown this.

Enforce the current laws on speed, following distance, talking on the mobile phone, etc., and bikes will do likweise. Bicycles would be THRILLED if the Police enforced the traffic laws. THRILLED!!!!!

But the fact is: the Police can't and won't enforce traffic laws...it would drive commerce to a standstill.

We have done this to ourselves....this is a culture of imbeciles, whose blind allegiances and lack of courage to change has painted us into a corner!!


Time for Pedestrians to be licensed and required to wear helmets, elbow and knee pads as well. 4,280 of them were killed in 2010, up from 4109 the year before. An estimated 70,000 pedestrians were injured in 2010. 79% of pedestrian fatalities were at a non-intersection, so they were obviously breaking the law and not crossing at a designated and well marked area.

Keep the anklebiters off the streets! Almost one-fifth of all children between the ages of 5 and 9 who were killed in traffic crashes were pedestrians, and children aged 15 and younger were 23% of all pedestrians injured in traffic crashes.

If you wish to expand the theatre of the absurd to cyclists, you really need to then include pedestrians.


So, people in 2 to 4 thousand pound missiles driving while on the phone, texting, etc. They are the only guidance system for this missile and they choose to disengage the system to the point where they are killing and maiming other human beings. Unbelievable numbers of other human beings. The top causes for this are running red lights/stop signs and speeding.

And the author is concerned about bikers breaking the law. Actually she seems more annoyed then concerned.

Should bikers obey the law? Of course they should. But in the big picture there would seem to be more important things to be concerned about. This recipe for disaster she speaks of seems to be fully cooked and it has nothing to do with people on bikes. Just ask the thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people who will never walk again or who have permanent brain damage.

Roger M.

Right on, Michael. If someone is a reckless idiot, I would much rather them be riding a bike than driving a car. The stakes are lower.

Michael Petricone

Janice, I fully agree that both motorists and bicycles need to be respectful and conscious of road safety. However, as a rules-following biker, I face challenges from motorists who ignore bike lanes or seem unaware that that they are sharing the road with bicycle traffic. To the extent you don't already, I suggest you get out of your car, hop on a bike and ride the streets of DC. You will you enjoy an exhilerating and healthy urban experience, and also perhaps gain a new perspective on the interaction between bicycles and motor vehicles.


The laws are already on the books but the cops don't enforce them. Bikers get away with poor road behavior all the time, and their culture supports it. WABA does nothing to truly advance laws or skills, yet they are the first to lobby for more bike lanes, which are unnecessary. Bikes need to get off all sidewalks and stay on the roadways, but they won't until real laws are passed which protect pedestrians and not bikers.

Worried Pedestrian

DC already IS cracking down on motorists who break the law, with more and more speed cameras. Why don't we crack down on bicyclists who flaunt the law?

Why don't we make the penalty the same for bicyclists who blow though stop signs? And especially those who blow through stop signs when there are pedestrians in the crosswalk? Why is it a driver gets big bucks and points, when a biker gets off with $25 and no points?

I have never had to dodge a car that ran a stop sign while I was in a crosswalk, but it happens on an almost regular basis with bicyclists. Often, they are going the wrong way on a one-way street.

I guess Council and the MPD will wait until one of us pedestrians gets killed. Then they'll crack down.

That's what they did in San Francisco, after a bicyclist killed an elderly man on Market Street near Castro.

By the way, the fine in SF is now $350 for a bicyclist running a stop sign.


To the Cyclists -

Who are commenting. This article isn't about motorist so stop whining. It's about cyclists not following the law - which I live and drive both 4 and 2 wheels in Georgetown and could not agree with the author more.

If we run a red light or stop sign in a car we get pulled over and get a ticket. If you do the same thing you are not accountable.

What if you started getting tickets? Seems fair. Right?


Bravo!! Thanks to Ms.Ockershausen for her timely comments.Adding bicyclists to the already dicey mix of buses, cars, trucks and pedestrians in a metropolitan area already over burdedned with traffic nightmares is a recipe for disaster. Like the writer, I'm amazed there haven't been more accidents and am terrified I'll accidentally hit a bicyclist speeding along while trying to weave his or her way through traffic, assuming those in cars will somehow always see him and read his mind re. his "next direction" and just "get out of the way". I'm NOT getting out of the way. I drive carefully and follow the laws, but I do often feel forced to change my route when I happen upon a cyclist determined to deliberately dart in front of me, forcing me to suddenly slow down to a crawl, or - worse-race me down the street trying to"beat" me through a light or around a corner. Nothing is worth the trauma that would occur should I accidentally hit him, or he me. This new trend of allowing bicyclists to take over our streets represents insanity at its best.


You are missing the point. The author of the article advocated licensing of cyclists. The commenters note that licensing is not the answer. Motorists are licensed and they kill over 30,000 people each year. The author says that cyclists are dangerous. The commenters respond, again, that drivers present a far greater danger than cyclists. You say that cyclists should be ticketed when the disobey the law -- a point the author did not make and that no one disagrees with. That's quite apart from requiring licensing. Fact is, police can write tickets for cyclists now, and they sometimes do (ask the Reston Cycling Club riders who were ticketed by Loudon sheriff's department this weekend during annual "century" ride), though probably not often. Of course, they hardly ever write them for drivers either. Your statement that "If we run a red light or stop sign in a car we get pulled over and get a ticket" is a bit of a stretch to say the least. Police can write you a ticket, but it's unlikely they will. How many cars actually stop at stop signs, fully? D.C. bans use of hand-held cell phones by drivers, but many drivers use them nonetheless, and I don't see them ticketed.


Cyclists run stop signs, and are not typically ticketed, for the same reasons drivers exceed 55 mph on the Beltway, and are not typically ticketed. While in each case the (illegal) behavior increases safety risk, the increased risk is in most cases and without more, pretty small. In each case the cyclist or motorist determines that the savings in time and effort is worth this small increased risk. Police - it appears - generally agree too because by and large they don't bother enforcing these laws despite visible and continuing violations.

Most cyclists who run stop signs or red lights do so cautiously, after making sure there's no cross traffic, etc. (it's in their interest to do so after all), just as most motorists driving 70 mph on the Beltway don't veer from lane to lane, tailgate or otherwise behave recklessly. Some cyclists blow through intersections and force motorists or pedestrians to act to avoid a collision. Some motorists going 70 mph on the Beltway behave aggressively and dangerously.

The mere "lawbreaker" may or may not be endangering anyone. The reckless pilot is. Rather than waste resources by ticketing every infraction just because "it's the law and you have to follow it" (which no one really believes), it would make more sense simply to ticket reckless behavior. Wouldn't it?


I'll put it another way. If I'm crossing K Street, with the light and in a crosswalk, and a cyclist blows through the intersection and almost takes me out along with three other pedestrians, I hope that the police chase him down with a motorcycle and ticket him and take his bike until he learns not to endanger others. I feel exactly the same way about the jerk who comes up behind me at 85 mph on the freeway and tailgates me at 18". Behavior like that makes my blood boil. Neither of those people should be on the road.

But neither of those cases makes even the beginning of an argument to ticket according to the letter of the law. Sure, you can drop a policeman at 31st & K and write tickets to cyclists all day long. Just as you can put a radar cop on the Beltway at New Hampshire and write tickets to drivers all day long. But to what end? What's the point? It's a waste of police time and resources - particularly since, as we all know, the very next day both the cyclists and the motorists will return to their scofflaw ways.


I would suggest one look at the statistics and see where the greatest threat to bodily harm is. Before spending police time on cracking down they should at least make sure they do it on what is the most dangerous.

That would be cars.

It makes no sense to put a policeman on a corner where there is little traffic to catch people running red lights. To go after bicyclists when the real and present danger is cars makes as much sense.

To harp about bicyclists acting illegally and demand something be done when the danger is cars acting illegally and having very real world consequences seems off the mark. Are we concerned about safety here or is this a rant?

To see cars in action all she need do is pick a corner and watch cars break the law. All day long.


PLEASE continue to publish these kinds of observations about the miserable behavior of a large majority of bikers. I have called 311, the
non-emergency police number on many occasions around the area of Tony
& Joe's and Nick's Riverside Grill. Now that these fabulous eateries
are reopening after the unfortunate flood over one year ago, there will
be stupid accidents with walkers and patrons, for sure, UNLESS strict

rules are obeyed. REMEMBER, those who fear being damaged by these audacious bullies, call 311 as many times that you have to.


cyclists wisp in and out of traffic because the observe what is happening before you do. motorists are eating a cheeseburger, playing with their iPod, texting or talking on the phone. MOST motorists are completely distracted. I like to scare these idiots because they are all distracted in one way or another.

i've been hit by too many cars because of THEIR failure to yield to cyclist. How many motorists strike pedestrians a year?

cyclists are the problem. it is distracted motorists.

Jonathan Krall

I think it is worth pointing out that in Washington DC (the city, not the metro area) most of the people killed by motor vehicles are _not_ drivers or passengers of motor vehicles, they are pedestrians or cyclists. We have reached the point where most of the danger comes from motorists and most of the risk is borne by pedestrians. Drivers who kill rarely face consequences. This is simply immoral.

Further, we in the USA have traffic fatality rates 3-4 times that of a typical European country. If we reduced our traffic fatality rates to European levels we would save over 20,000 lives per year. Even modest steps, such as license suspension following every fatal collision, would save thousands of lives per year. This, not cyclists failing to come to a full stop at stop signs, is a real problem that needs to be addressed.


Follow the rules bikers or you will pay the ultimate price. You should be as accountable as a driver of a motor vehicle. The roads were designed foe vehicles, not you lance armstrong pansies.

Stay off our roads.

Saftey First

Since most accidents occur in parking lots, it should be mandatory that pedestrians wear helmets between their cars and the stores they are entering. This would cut down on many head injuries for pedestrians in their most vulnerable environment.

@ 2:30pm

You do realize that roads in Georgetown were designed for horse and buggy not motor vehicles, right? If cars drove horse and buggy speeds on streets with stop signs on every corner we'd all be safer.


"Our" roads indeed! When the government writes me a check for my share of taxes that goes toward building and maintaining the roads, then you can claim an exclusive proprietary interest.

What a crock.