County in Tenn. Has Developed Bicycle Safety System- Does It Work? Would It Work In Boston?

Law enforcement officials in Chattanooga, Tennessee believe they are on their way to developing a system to determine whether or not motor vehicle drivers are maintaining a safe distance from the bicyclists they share the road with. And while there are still a few key factors that need to be worked out in order to provide this security on a massive scale, police officers in Chattanooga think they are on the right track.

Safe passing laws are in effect in most states across the country, but bicycle safety activists feel that even though these laws are in place, they aren’t necessarily enforced to a degree that ensures safety or accurately reprimands the dangerous drivers who violate these laws. Police officers have indicated that it becomes difficult for them to precisely determine who is guilty of this encroachment. Officers who ride their bikes on the job have said that while yes, they are able to understand when a motor vehicle is riding too closely to them, that they aren’t swift enough to track down the culprit and pull them over when on their bicycles. Police will then have to provide an additional motor vehicle to accompany the bicyclist cop on their route in order to appropriately apprehend an individual that has committed this passing law violation. Since 2007, Chattanooga law enforcement officers have said that they had not even enforced this law until recently, when Chief of Police in Chattanooga, Fred Fletcher, decided that something concrete needed to be done.

Chief Fletcher had previously worked in Austin, Texas as a liaison to the bicycle community that thrives there. He said that based off of this experience, he was able to acquire knowledge and understanding of how to best protect cyclists who take to the streets every single day. The police officers of Austin, Texas are specifically trained to identify the appropriate amount of length that should be maintained at all times between motor vehicles and their bicycle counterparts. This designated length of 36 inches can be hard to observe at an exact figure, but Chief Fletcher says that officers can use their common sense to distinguish between what looks about 36 inches and what looks much closer than that. He has said that if an officer on a bike can reach out and touch the car in question—they’re driving too close.

Even with this training being implemented into his new force, Chief Police Fletcher still wanted to do more to further ensure safety for cyclists. He had connections to a software firm in Austin by the name of Codaxus, and he knew that they had been developing an idea for a device that could help assist officers in identifying unsafe driving patterns.  Chris Stanton, the co-founder of the software company Codaxus, agreed that attempting to identify the three foot margin between vehicles was a step in the right direction. But he went on to say that the margin between three feet and two feet would be more difficult to gage on sight alone—and that’s where technology steps in.

Codaxus has developed a device that is capable of creating an exact distance reading by using an ultrasound detector in compliance with a camera, both of which would be attached to the bicycle being used by law enforcement officials. The camera, which would be mounted to the handlebars of the bike, would be able to create an accurate image of the vehicle in question while providing key details, such as the license plate and make and model of the vehicle. Because of this development, judges in the Chattanooga area, who have previously thrown out cases of bicycle infringement in the past due to lack of evidence, have agreed to use this video footage in determining whether or not the motor vehicle in question is in direct violation of the state’s passing laws. These judges have also agreed that if anyone were to be cited for this particular issue, that the person in question would be ordered to partake in bike safety classes instead of paying fines. The individual would have the option of opting out of these bike safety courses—but only if they paid a $50 fine in return.

So far, only one officer on one bike has been provided the Codaxus equipment. Despite this fact however, it already seems to be producing a positive effect. Chattanooga police have reported that they have stopped approximately 25 drivers for violating the passing law. And while they have yet to issue any citations in compliance with this, they believe they are on the right path. Officers believe that if they show motor vehicle drivers the video footage acquired from their bicycles, drivers will gain a greater knowledge of just how scary it can be for cyclists who are being encroached upon. This growth of information will hopefully provide drivers with the perspective they need to practice safer driving habits and to become more aware of their surroundings.

The Chattanooga police department has also made the decision to place decals on the back of their cars detailing the proper distance that needs to be maintained between cars and bikes at all times. The hope is that when people actively see the correct way to pass bicyclists on the road, the number of accidents will swiftly decrease.

Since establishing the use of the Codaxus device, states in surrounding areas have contacted co-founder Chris Stanton about creating devices of their own. Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher is pleased to hear of this development—but he also urges other police forces to actively train their officers to recognize these violations on their own first, before resorting to technology. He believes that if officers are diligently enforcing this issue, drivers will become more aware of the seriousness of the situation. It will be interesting to see if this technology becomes more standardized. It will also be interesting to see if other states, such as Massachusetts will adopt similar technology. As a Boston injury lawyer the number of bicycle accidents I have seen in the past number of has increased – there are simply more bike riders on the road than in the past. While bike lanes certainly help with safety – technology like Codaxus can certainly help as well.


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