The L.A. culture war between drivers and bicyclists was in full view this morning on KPCC's "Airtalk." The focus was the City Council's new ordinance allowing a bicyclist to take a free legal shot at a driver if the rider feels harassed or inordinately distracted. The ordinance, which is awaiting Mayor Villaraigosa's signature, tries to correct the disadvantage that many cyclists feel on L.A. streets by giving them a pretty big legal leg up.
Constitutional scholar and blogger Eugene Volokh, who called the law vague and just plain unfair, said in practice it means drivers could start getting lawyer letters threatening thousands of dollars in potential costs for a minor encounter they don't even recall — and will feel coerced to settle for $2,000 or more to avoid greater exposure. That's because the pending law, sponsored by Councilman Bill Rosendahl, gives riders a lot of incentive to sue, or just threaten to sue. If the cyclist wins, he or she gets a minimum of $1,000 from the driver, plus their legal and court fees, and triple damages if any are actually proven. If the driver wins, he or she gets nothing — and has to eat their own costs. "This is throwing the drivers of the city under the bus to protect the bicyclists," said Volokh, adding there's no evidence that riders are any less well-off than drivers. Rosendahl said "the whole idea is to give cyclists a little bit more gravitas when they're dealing with harassment." Most of the callers took Volokh's side — though interestingly, many were from Orange County — and the comments exchange has gotten somewhat heated on the "Airtalk" web page.
Could be there's more backlash rising against the vocal minority of bike riders, which has been winning recent rounds in City Hall. Listen to the segment.