OAKLAND -- Abusive drivers who take aim at cyclists and pedestrians might soon face retribution far more severe than a middle finger.
Councilwoman Libby Schaaf introduced legislation Tuesday that would make Oakland the nation's fourth city to allow aggrieved cyclists and pedestrians to take their vehicular tormentors to civil court. If victorious, Oakland law would let cyclists, pedestrians sue abusive driversplaintiffs would be entitled to at least $1,000 and attorneys fees.
Bicycle advocates and Schaaf, who is running for mayor, acknowledged that cyclists are not always docile victims on the streets of Oakland. But they said the additional protections were warranted because both cyclists and pedestrians are far more vulnerable to serious injury.
A report from Schaaf's office found that 184 pedestrians and cyclists were killed by cars in Oakland between 1992 and 2011.
"The idea is to de-escalate the aggression from all parties and hopefully we'll make everyone safer," Schaaf said during a new conference Tuesday announcing the bill.
The law would prohibit motorists from assaulting or intentionally inflicting emotional distress against cyclists or pedestrians -- and provides the victims with an opportunity to seek civil damages. Motorists also would not be allowed to intentionally pass cyclists and pedestrians in an unsafe manner.
Both motorists and cyclists would be prohibited from intentionally failing to yield to a pedestrian.
The proposal, championed by the organization Walk Oakland Bike Oakland, is modeled on a law first passed three years ago in Los Angeles. Berkeley and Washington, D.C., have also passed versions of the law, although no civil suit has been filed under the law in any of those cities.
Proving abuse would be difficult without camera footage or witnesses, advocates said.
Christopher Kidd, an Oakland native who worked on the Los Angeles law, said he has been the victim of abusive drivers in both cities, although he said Oakland drivers were nicer. Nevertheless, he said the worst incident occurred last year in Oakland. A driver, who had shouted at him on the road, later intentionally struck him with his car door near the intersection of San Pablo and Stanford avenues.
"When I tried to take a photograph of his license plate, he threatened to get a gun out of his truck," Kidd said.
Edward Erving, a Berkeley resident, who happened upon Tuesday's news conference, said he's been on the wrong side of over-aggressive drivers and cyclists. He was open to the proposal, but feared it might punish drivers for lapses of concentration.
"What if I'm driving and I didn't see that person and end up cutting them off?" he asked. "Can they turn around and say I had a mean look on my face and I was intentionally trying to harass them?"
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435