Police threaten arrest for child biking to school

Harold McCormick Elementary School, Elizabethton, TN — Police threaten arrest and call in Child Services investigation after they see 10 year girl biking home from school on residential road.

A police officer went to investigate after a motorist complained about a girl biking from school on a narrow residential road. The officer “observed that vehicles had to slow and negotiate around the the bicyclist” on Cedar Avenue south of the school.

To me, this seems like normal and expected traffic movement. This unnamed officer, however, believes “this section of the roadway is not a safe place for a child of her to be riding unsupervised” so he loaded her and her bike up in the police cruiser, drove her home, and had a chat with the child’s mother, Teresa Tryon.

When Tryon (who happens to be a bike nerd) emphatically disagreed with Officer Friendly’s assessment of traffic safety, the officer “informed her that I would have a report and it would be filed to” the Department of Children Services.

Officer Friendly also believes the sidewalk is the safest place for a child to ride because of the heavy school traffic on Cedar Avenue, but notes there is no sidewalk available. The alternative for the child is a bus ride for the one mile trip to school.

Here’s the Google Streetview of Cedar Street immediately in front of the school. A view further south is not available. If the Elizabethton police see dangerous traffic conditions in front of an elementary school, he should cite the adults creating the danger — i.e. all of those parents driving their children to and from school.



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Ms Tryon contacted the League of American Bicyclists to ask for their help and was directed to Bike Walk Tennessee, who posted her story online and are apparently working with Elizabethton police to resolve this issue. I don’t know what (if any) legal help they’re providing for the threatened Child Services visit.

I don’t know the dynamics in Elizabethton, but some kind of community effort to create a biking school bus resulting in a school day critical mass might be something to think about. When children on bikes own the road during the school rush hour, maybe police will focus a little better on the real traffic safety issues.

Most of the information was provided from Ms Tryon and from Bill Hobbs, who’s been calling Elizabethton police and DCS and posting what he’s found.

4 Comments

  • Chinna
    August 31, 2011 - 3:51 pm | Permalink

    I like the initiative in San Diego to train police officers on bicyclist’s rights: http://www.bikesd.org/2011/08/san-diego-police-department-to-train-officers-on-cyclists%E2%80%99-rights-and-laws/.  Something like that would help this situation, as it would most officer-acting-silly-with-bicycle(s) situations.

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  • Ianbrettcooper
    September 8, 2011 - 11:58 pm | Permalink

    This is fricken ridiculous! We’re supposed to be creating safe routes to school, not arresting kids for cycling to school because motorists are incompetent.

    If the road is unsafe, the speed limit should be reduced. It is a school zone after all. If motorists are unsafe, they should be ticketed or have their licenses suspended. In this case, we know the cyclist was behaving properly, because no charges were filed and the police report mentions no illegal conduct. Overtaking a bus is not a crime – not even if the person doing the overtaking is only 10.

  • May 22, 2012 - 4:47 pm | Permalink

    Of course the cop says ride on the sidewalk. It is MORE dangerous (more intersections especially blind intersections – most child bike fatalities are sidewalk driveways) and illegal (in 99% of places).

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