29 September 2015

Allen Brumm: A Cyclist Follows The Law And Is Blamed For His Own Death

Which is worse:  An ill-conceived law-- or a law enforcement official who is ignorant of, or misinterprets, a law?

The death of Allen Brumm seems to beg such a question.

The 57-year-old California cyclist was riding in a time trial when he was struck head-on by an oncoming motorist.

California Vehicle Code 21751 mandates the following:

Passing Without Sufficient Clearance 21751. On a two-lane highway, no vehicle shall be driven to the left side of the center of the roadway in overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction unless the left side is clearly visible and free of oncoming traffic for a sufficient distance ahead to permit such overtaking and passing to be completely made without interfering with the safe operation of any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction. 

Now, I'm not a lawyer. But it seems to me that the key clause in that passage is "unless the left side is clearly visible and free of oncoming traffic for a sufficient distance ahead".  In other words, if you're driving, you're not supposed to pass unless the left lane is clear for as much distance as you need to pass.

The 35-year-old-driver had pulled to her left to pass another cyclist on County Road 19 in a rural area of Yolo County, west of Sacramento. Mr. Brumm was riding in the oncoming lane.

This is a Google Streetview of a section of CR 19 near the crash site.  As you can see, there was nothing to obstruct her view almost clear to the horizon.  

California Highway Patrol Sergeant Andy Hill, in describing the accident, said "both parties" contributed to the collision.  He did not specify the driver's culpability, but said that Mr. Brumm's fault lay in his riding "as far to the right" as possible.

This is what the Golden State's Vehicle code specifies:

Operation on Roadway 21202. (a) Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway…. 

 Again, take my reading of this, as a non-barrister, as you will.  But it seems to me that the key part of this statute--as it pertains to the accident in question--is "shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway.

The last time I checked, "practicable" does not mean quite the same thing as "possible".  Were Tour de France riders to descend any Alpine road as far to the right as "possible", there wouldn't be enough riders left to continue the Tour de France!  Even the most skilled rider would have a hard time not falling off a virage were he or she to ride as far to the right as possible.

On such roads, riding as far to the right as possible could mean riding on rocks or on the edge of a cliff.  In other situations, it could mean riding on ice or on a soft shoulder that would act as quicksand under a bicycle tire tread.

That last scenario is--from what I've read--what Mr. Brumm encountered.  Riding as far to the right as possible would have meant not riding at all.  So he rode as far to the right as was practicable in that situation.

Once, on a ride in Pennsylvania, I got into an argument with an officer about that very point.  The Keystone State, like many others, has (or had, at that time) language similar to CVC 21202 in its laws.  To the right of the roadway on which I was riding was the muddy bank of a stream, which would have been all but impossible to ride on the road bike I was pedaling.  That road was similar to the one on which Mr. Brumm died--a two-lane county road in a semi-rural area.

I explained to the policeman--who, I believe, was not a cyclist--the near-impossiblity of riding "as far to the right as possible".  He said, "Well, maybe you shouldn't be riding this road."  I think he knew that I didn't live in the area and, to his credit, suggested another nearby road, which I rode back to the bridge in Uhlerstown.

And, of course, I rode as far to the right as was practicable into New Jersey.  Poor Allen Brumm did the same in California and is being blamed for his death.

My sincere condolences to his friends and family.


  1. The law is generally an ass! A lifetime of harassment and observing the gross stupidity of those who pledge to serve and protect means that I am sadly not surprised.

    Drivers no longer cycle on roads before getting their licence to kill...

  2. Coline--Your last sentence really sums up much. People who haven't cycled on roads don't understand what safe cycling actually is.

  3. The driver is totally to blame. What idiot crosses the yellow line when it is unsafe to do so? Why did she not see him, was she texting? They need to check her phone records. A man is dead, because she was not paying attention. They need to throw the book at her!

  4. Anon--I agree that the police should check her phone records and otherwise do a thorough investigation. If indeed she is culpable, she should "have the book thrown at her".

    Plus, that CHP officer needs to understand the English language a little better.