Cyclists have defense next time cops harass them

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Stoppies like this do not appear in Tennessee law, though wheelies are forbidden if people are nearby and the cyclist shows wanton disregard for human life or property.

Tennessee law forbids wheelies, under some circumstances. But motorcycle stoppies like this one are now prohibited. 

I have a 20 year old son who is a Marine veteran, discharged after a serious injury and in love with speed and a motorcycle.

Police are given to harassing him and other motorcyclists by unwarranted stops, he says. Returning from Parris Island to Chattanooga, he endured two roadblocks (one in Soddy-Daisy, one in Rossville, Ga.) and five traffic stops.

By David Tulis / Noogaradio 1240 AM 101.1 FM

He’s been stopped six times in Nashville, to which he has moved to study welding at a trade school.

Police have stopped him for popping wheelies, in which the front tire is off the street.

One was on a major thoroughfare, among fellow bikers. “Dad, I was showboating,” he protests. “What’s the use of doing wheelies if no one’s around?”

Other police stops occurred along mostly empty streets. Josiah’s protocol when stopped is as follows: “I speak respectfully, flash my military ID as I am getting my driver license, and kiss ass until it’s over.” With his Marine veteran card showing a bald, grim face, he is by default on the correct side of the bright blue line, and the stop easily turns into a friendly chat. Not once has this six-foot-three lankster been cited to court or arrested.

He insisted over Thanksgiving that wheelies are illegal, but neither of us had read the law. So I checked.

It is an eye-opener to read the statute, easily findable today by using Google, or using Lexis Nexis, which publishes Tennessee’s statutes with free public access.

Wheelie liberty

Many so-called laws or rules by which we live aren’t law at all. The ban on motorcycle wheelies is narrow.

A person commits an offense of reckless driving who drives a motorcycle with the front tire [wheelie] raised off the ground in willful and wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property on any public street, highway, alley, parking lot, or driveway, or on the premises of any shopping center, trailer park, apartment house complex, or any other premises that are generally frequented by the public at large ***  TCA 55-10-205(b)

It’s easy to get confused by the length of the sentence giving attention to the various types of locales. The key words are that the motorcyclist cannot ride with the front wheel off the ground “willful and wanton disregard” for the safety of people nearby.

Loophole, or real limit in law

Some cyclists do wheelies with their rear wheels in the air. Stoppies aren’t in view at all in Tennessee law — a stoppie is where the rear tire is aloft.

If no one’s around but the officer as witness and accuser, the wheelie cannot legally stand a reckless driving charge unless the officer is very close.

A detainee or arrestee who informs the officer of the limits of the statute, and is still cited to traffic court, or is arrested if the cyclist refuses to sign, can accuse the officer of acting in bad faith, outside probable cause, outside the warrant of the statute. In theory the arrestee can accuse the officer personally for a tort, as he acted outside his authority.

We looked at the statute and discussed it over dinner. New ideas come into the young man’s mind.

He says that he will play is regular “kiss ass” game, but if the officer prepares to cite or arrest him — and no one was around at the time of the wheelie — he will bring up the actual law.

What boy might say

It might run something like this for this articulate, direct and cheerful young man: “Officer, you know, that the statute does not apply to me unless I’m near people and that I have intentionally or maliciously acted in a way to endanger them. Are there any people around? No. You know this incident has occurred absent anybody being near or in danger. Since no one is nearby, you cannot even pretend to see in me and reach an evil intention. Only way you could detect ‘willful and wanton disregard’ for others is if I had done it near someone.’ Even if their being somewhat nearby, you would have to prove intent to act carelessly and maliciously.

“And what have I done or said here to give you any ideas about recklessness, carelessness or malicious disregard for human life? I suggest you drop it. The statute is clear. You lack grounds to charge me. And if you arrest me you are acting under personal authority, and not under the authority of the law. Do you really want to do that? I suggest that since I am speaking to you in good faith  and with full respect to your office, that you consider what I propose in the same spirit, and detain me no further.”

Now,  am I  free to leave?”

With that last key question, I hope my son survive to be 21 years old. I hope that every day that he drives his motorcycle, a death machine, that he will exercise his prudence, avoiding skidding on stones or being slammed by a truck steered by an oblivious driver in commerce.

I hope that in dealing with police, he will exercise prudence, restraint, respect, that also he knows his rights and always do things with a good and innocent motive. Local economy is stronger if people know how to deal with this external threat of the law that threatens harmless and innocent activity.

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