Bike Advocates Speak Out: Bicycle Bell Burdensome Law – Doesn’t Increase Safety
A few weeks ago, Dayton City Commissioners eliminated the requirement that bikes in the city must have bells attached to them. Bike Miami Valley advocated for this change and will continue to seek just and equitable bicycle laws, promoting rider safety and protections. The basis for this bike advocacy effort came about from staff members realizing discrepancies within the local bicycle laws for each jurisdiction. Some local towns and villages follow the State of Ohio’s language for bike bell laws.
Below is the State of Ohio Revised Code 4511.56 for vehicles/ bicycles on the roadway states:
(C) A bicycle or electric bicycle may be equipped with a device capable of giving an audible signal, except that a bicycle or electric bicycle shall not be equipped with nor shall any person use upon a bicycle or electric bicycle any siren or whistle.
Below is our letter to the Dayton City Commissioners, and our Executive Director, Laura Estandia provided comments during the first commission meeting reviewing the law change earlier this summer.
Greeting City of Dayton Commissioners,
As a Member of the City’s Bike Walk Task Force and the region’s advocacy organization, Bike Miami Valley is writing to bring a city ordinance to your attention that in need of review. Our mission is to advocate, promote, and create opportunities for all forms of cycling in the greater Dayton region. It is in our strategic plan to address components of equity and safety for bicyclists, no matter where they reside. The Bike/Walk Task Force focuses its efforts on improving the environment for citizens of Dayton who choose to bike and walk.
The City of Dayton ordinance #26393, in the Traffic Code, chapter 74, section 74.05, which was passed in 1981 states that:
“(A) No person shall operate a bicycle unless it is equipped with a bell or other device capable of giving a signal audible for a distance of at least 100 feet.
(B) A bicycle shall not be equipped with nor shall any person use on a bicycle any siren or whistle.”
And the penalty for violating these laws states:
“[A person] is guilty of a minor misdemeanor on a first offense; on a second offense within one year after the first offense, such person is guilty of a misdemeanor of the fourth degree; on each subsequent offense within one year after the first offense, such person is guilty of a misdemeanor of the third degree.”
Part (A) of the ordinance needs review. Bike bells or turn signals are not fixed to bicycles when sold. These additional devices add extra costs for the buyer. The Requirement of having a bell doesn’t make it a requirement to use the bell, unlike the requirement to use either a car blinker or a hand signal. Requiring the device does not require the use or promote safety. The absence of a bike bell does not make the operator or those around the operator in any danger. On the other hand, the absence of a suitable brake mechanism, for example, would endanger the operator and other parties around them. A bike bell may be suitable in a trail environment, but on our city streets, we struggle to see how it contributes to the safety of people who bike and other road users.
We recommend that the City follow Ohio Revised Code, chapter 4511.56 (C) effective since 2004 and updated in 2006, which states that a bicycle bell is optional:
“A bicycle or electric bicycle may be equipped with a device capable of giving an audible signal, except that a bicycle or electric bicycle shall not be equipped with nor shall any person use upon a bicycle or electric bicycle any siren or whistle.”
Eleven other cities in the region have ordinances in accordance with that of the State of Ohio’s. Dayton is one of only four other cities in the region that require the bicycle bell. We at Bike Miami Valley urge the Commissioners to update the ordinance to the State of Ohio’s optional bicycle bell language, thus making the local laws consistent for those that use their bicycle for transportation in any city within the Miami Valley.
The 1981 ordinance has become an issue of equitable policing. The lack of a bicycle bell is often used as an enforcement tactic to pull people over and conduct a traffic stop. More likely than not, that person is someone who cannot afford the extra purchase, cannot afford a traffic ticket, and is likely someone with transportation issues that do not afford them a single-occupancy car. In too many cities across the country, we have all heard about simple traffic stops going wrong.
Our staff, as a member of the Bike/Walk Task Force, has had professional conversations with some of the Dayton Police Department leadership about how they perceive and enforce this law. Major Wendy Stiver of the Central Patrol Operations has said that this law is a cost burden for the transit dependent. Additionally, officers have referred to the law as a “tool in their toolkit.” It has been at times used by officers in an exploratory way to target and pull over individuals, or as an “add-on” ticket to execute additional punishment for bad behavior. National studies from PeopleForBikes and The Better Bike Share Program show that people of color are three times more likely to be pulled over by authorities when traveling by bicycle, and three times more likely to be harmed by this type of burdensome ordinance.
In places like Washington, D.C., Chicago, Seattle, and others, local governments have diminished racial profiling from authorities by eliminating any mandatory bike helmet or bicycle bell requirement in the law. Dayton, OH should do the same, ensuring bicycle laws are implemented and equitably enforced for citizen safety first and foremost, making it completely optional to purchase, place, and use an accessory item like a bicycle bell.
Dayton has an opportunity to be a regional leader, addressing inequitable and outdated laws, to help promote better police relationships and building a more bike-friendly community. Bike Miami Valley and the Bike/Walk Task Force urge the City Commissioners to review this local ordinance and eliminate the bike bell requirement, making it an optional accessory, thus in accordance with the language in the State of Ohio’s law.
Bike Miami Valley