What Are Your Rights When a Driver Assaults You, a Bicyclist?

In my four years of bicycling in and around Boston, all around New York, even touring from Boston to New York twice, I’ve only ever been physically harassed once while riding my bicycle legally on the streets: A few years ago on a Friday night, preparing for a left turn from Cambridge St. to North Harvard Ave. I felt the impact of something hard hit my back and smelt of cheep beer trickle down my legs: Someone had just thrown a half-emtpy beer can at me on my bicycle out the window of a passing car. By the time I realized what had happened, the car was gone with the beer can thrower. Quite frankly, I was confused and pissed, since I had done nothing to provoke this stranger than perhaps ride my bike legally in the lane. Fortunately, I was fine and sustained nothing more than beer-soaked pants on the way home, so I shrugged it off and rode home. I was lucky, but nowhere near as lucky as Alan Simmons’ 2009 incident in Ashville, NC. The NY Times reports:

Alan Simons was enjoying a Sunday morning bicycle ride with his family in Asheville, N.C., two years ago when a man in a sport utility vehicle suddenly pulled alongside him and started berating him for riding on the highway.

Mr. Simons, his 4-year-old son strapped in behind him, slowed to a halt. The driver, Charles Diez, an Asheville firefighter, stopped as well. When Mr. Simons walked over, he found himself staring down the barrel of a gun.

“Go ahead, I’ll shoot you,” Mr. Diez said, according to Mr. Simons. “I’ll kill you.”

Mr. Simons turned to leave but heard a deafening bang. A bullet had passed through his bike helmet just above his left ear, barely missing him.

Mr. Diez, as it turned out, was one of more than 240,000 people in North Carolina with a permit to carry a concealed handgun. If not for that gun, Mr. Simons is convinced, the confrontation would have ended harmlessly. “I bet it would have been a bunch of mouthing,” he said.

Mr. Diez, then 42, eventually pleaded guilty to assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill.

Or, if it were not for that gun, perhaps Mr. Simmons would have had a beer can thrown at him as well. And with that opening anecdote, the Times dives in some excellent food for thought surrounding a much heated debate around gun control laws in an article titled “Guns in Public, and Out of Sight.”

I’ll never know who threw that beer can at me on that Friday night in Allston, but it does make me wonder: What if the driver who threw the beer can at me was the one driving? How strict are Massachusetts’ concealed bear can carry laws? Is there a correlation between alcohol sold in MA and beer can assaults on bicyclists in MA? and what are my rights at a bicyclist in Massachusetts for incidents of minor attempted physical assault like I experienced, or very serious attempted assault like Alan Simmons experienced? Fortunately, gun control laws in MA are very different than those in North Carolina, but that doesn’t mean something like what happened to Alan Simmons could never happen here.

I am no expert on Massachusetts law, but perhaps someone who is can shed some light? Perhaps this is a question for BikeSafeBoston.

Updates:

Thanks to Bike Lawyer Josh Zisson of BikeSafeBoston for pointing me to the Massachusetts laws for possession of firearms, which requires someone to have a “Class A” license (the only one that allows concealed carry) to legally carry any firearm in a vehicle. (M.G.H. 140.131)

And thanks to John S. for his insightful comment; once while taking the lane in Boston with other riders, a driver suggested that they “ought to be shot.”:

This reminds me of a time when I was on a group ride coming back from Castle Island in Boston late at night. The road was empty besides the dozen or so of us and a guy driving a minivan. For a half-minute or so he tailgated us then drove up alongside us. Irked by cyclists taking up an entire lane on a near-deserted road, the guy rolled down his window and shouted to us “YOU OUGHT TO BE SHOT,” then drove away.

In John’s case, the confrontation ended non-violently, and we’ll never know whether that driver had a gun or what he might have done were he carrying one. I will speak nothing of the effect of gun control laws on individuals’ behavior here (that’s a job that, as the NYT article pointed out, even economists with access to data struggle with and disagree on). For now though, these two contrasting anecdotes make me feel safer about living in a state where obtaining and concealing firearms is significantly more difficult than walking into a store and walking out with a gun the same day, and where the most dangerous projectile I’ve been hit with is a beer can and some non-violent words.

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2 Responses to What Are Your Rights When a Driver Assaults You, a Bicyclist?

  1. John S says:

    this reminds me of a time when I was on a group ride coming back from Castle Island in Boston late at night. the road was empty besides the dozen or so of us and a guy driving a minivan. for a half-minute or so he tailgated us then drove up alongside us. irked by cyclists taking up an entire lane on a near-deserted road, the guy rolled down his window and shouted to us “YOU OUGHT TO BE SHOT”, then drove away.

  2. pocky says:

    I am no expert on these things in MA law either, but I can tell you the police and the district attorney do indeed take physical assault seriously — because the driver in my own recent incident (which we’ve talked about in person) now indeed has a criminal record, and the pretrial date is set. 🙂

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