I had this experience about 4 years ago (which actually culminated a series of many similar experiences) where I was cycling my way back home (Missouri) from a bicycle trip to Cancun MX.

In Washington county of Oklahoma, just east of Bartlesville on US hwy 60, while observing (and respecting) all applicable laws, hwy patrol officer stops me because I am "obstructing the traffic". He then asks for my ID.

  • I respectfully asked "did I break any law?"
  • Officer: "in Oklahoma bicycles have the same rights as the cars and also same responsabilities. That means you need to have the same speed as the cars"

Thinking that he was just mocking the law, I refused to hand him the ID. He could not articulate any reasonable suspicion. He then took me to jail for obstructing an investigation (where the cops stole/took some of my most treasued memories from my bag because they found some Tylenol and Ibuprofen in the same jar) and the next day I posted bail (about $300 in full, cash) I was notified that I had to come back to Oklahoma for a court appearance. Seing that things get more complicated I decided to just pay them to get them off my back, go home and never return to that state. They would not accept my payment as it had been decided I had to come back. I came back, full of hope that the judge would listen and dismiss the case as it was based on a lie. Instead, he said that if I wanted to plead not guilty, I'd have to come back for a new court date to argue my case. At this point I found myself back at square one, so I decided I'd pay them and get it over with (with a "no contest plea") as the trips back and forth to OK would have cost me more that the ticket.

Later in the hallway I told the judge the cop's reasoning and his reply was: "He may have been wrong on the bicycle law, but you still should have handed him your ID"

Needless to say, I have not taken my bike on any trips ever since.

Now after 4 years I still can't get it off my mind and it's consuming me thinking that I was fooled into believing that the rule of law was the norm in this country (not the jungle law) and the beautiful constitution we have is not there just to look pretty, but something we can rely on.

My questions are:
1 - Is making up a law on the spot an acceptable alternative to the requirement that the cops have to have a reasonable suspicion in order to detain a civilian?
Remember, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere"
2 - Was the cop right? Does anyone know of a "minimum speed limit" on US hwy 60 ? (there were no signs about minimum speed limit or any signs regulating bicycle trafic on that road)
3 - Was the judge right to make me come back to OK (under threat of arrest warrant) just to tell me that he can not dismiss the case (in case I was to plead not guilty) ?
us hwy 60 screenshot This is a screenshot of US hwy 60 (Limestone). It is clearly not a "controlled access highway"

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Dale M
    Sep 30, 2019 at 3:57
  • That sucks for you, but I am glad of recent changes in Virginia law wsls.com/news/local/2021/06/28/… which among other things say "two bike riders are allowed to travel side-by-side without having to form single line when a vehicle approaches."
    – emory
    Nov 12, 2021 at 20:22

5 Answers 5


Now after 4 years I still can't get it off my mind and it's consuming me thinking that I was fooled into believing that the rule of law was the norm in this country (not the jungle law) and the beautiful constitution we have is not there just to look pretty, but something we can rely on.

So, at this point, do I need legal help? Or mental help or some kind of miracle pill to help me cope with the situation (?) I know that 6' under we can have peace, but can I live a peaceful (bully free) life here too?

We do have rule of law as a powerful norm in this country. But, we also live in a very complex society and the exact content of the law will always be the subject of fierce dispute.

The solution is, pretty much, to lower your expectations. The vast majority of the time the law works. Your beliefs about exactly how far you are allowed to disobey an order from a law enforcement officer as a matter of practical reality, were miscalibrated. But, you did get out of jail the next day and the punishment you received was very survivable. In much of the world, this wouldn't be true.

The rule of law doesn't mean that everyone perfectly obeys the law. It means that when the law is seriously broken in a manner that has big consequences that there is usually a way to legally mitigate the harm or to obtain a remedy.

Pushing the limits of the freedoms the law gives you is rarely wise. But, that is no reason to refuse to live your life. It is one thing to learn from experience. But, sometimes, you can overlearn from experience and need to recognize that your anecdotal experience on a single occasion is not all that there is the law.

  • 1
    "In much of the world, this wouldn't be true." I cycled outside the US just about as many miles as I did in the US. Here (in the US) I lost count of how many times I was harassed. In the rest of the countries (about 10 countries) I can always remember the number of times I got harassed for cycling because it is an easy number. It's - 0 - (zero)
    – Alex Doe
    Jan 22, 2019 at 3:19
  • 1
    On a single ocasion" ? As I was saying, this incident "culminated a series of many similar experiences" with "funny" excuses for harassment . (IN TX "what if you fall and die.. we need to know who to send the body to. IN FL "I just need to check to see if you have any arrest warrants. IN chicago "You look suspicious because you are jogging without jogging pants".. and much more). I complied with all of them until I got tired. As a side question, do you think it's possible that some people posting comments or answers here might be working for the cops? Some "sound" just like it. – Alex Doe
    – Alex Doe
    Jan 22, 2019 at 11:16
  • 1
    @AlexDoe Your experience of about eleven countries (the USA plus about ten others) does nothing to refute a claim about "much of the world". Jan 22, 2019 at 17:07
  • 6
    @DavidRicherby A fellow attorney who used to work in my building used to practice law in Nigeria during one of its less stable periods. He said that after that experience he was never afraid to present a case in court in the U.S. because at least in the U.S., if the judge disagreed with you, you still wouldn't be shot and killed.
    – ohwilleke
    Jan 22, 2019 at 18:52
  • 1
    @AlexDoe I believe the "much of the world" point is not with respect to the treatment of cyclists by police or other road users, but with respect to the severe nature of police and other harassment in much of the world. That is, once you get to the point that you're in jail, you might be detained for a longer period and/or more severely punished.
    – phoog
    Feb 14, 2019 at 15:39

The main issue here seems to be uncertainty as to when you can refuse to obey an order by the police. You need to know how to distinguish between an order and a suggestion or request. The words used can tell you directly that you have been given an order: verbs in the imperative are unambiguously orders. Statements like "It would help us if you would let us look in the trunk" is a suggestion; "I need you to step out of the car" is on the cusp between a suggestion and an order. The case of Sly v. Alabama (where the court referred to the statement "I need to see your driver's license" as a request) clarifies that a request coupled with a legal obligation to do something is in fact an order.

You also need to know whether the order is "lawful", which is about the officer and not you. If it would violate the law for the officer to force you to comply, the order is not lawful. But, as the court pointed out in Oregon v. Ruggles, "Whether a particular police order is 'lawful' is frequently a complex question involving some of the most vexing and intractable issues in constitutional law". It is unreasonable to expect an ordinary citizen to have the depth of knowledge of case law that would be required to know with absolute certainty that an order is unlawful (barring the hypothetical situation where an officer orders you to commit a crime).

What this means, then, is that if you do not comply with a officer's order, you run a substantial risk of being arrested. On appeal you might prevail in your argument that the order was unlawful, if you are willing to spend the time and money to make a point. That seems not to be the case here, since you didn't pursue justice to the end, instead you pleaded no contest (so the judge could not find in your favor). Pleading no contest extinguishes all hope of getting your money back. It is not clear to me what that deeper philosophical point would be, but I suppose that it would be that officers should be vigorously instructed in some of the finer points of Title 47 as it applies to bicycles and the fact that the "show ID" requirement applies to motor vehicles, not all vehicles. There are many subtleties in law that are not commonly understood by officers, and while it would be highly desirable for officers to have lawerly expertise in the law, that is an unrealistic expectation. For one thing, what you need is a political solution coming from the legislature (a law about legal training for police), and you can't get a court order demanding that.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Dale M
    Sep 30, 2019 at 4:01

So I did some digging and found the website for BikeOklahoma, an advocacy group for cyclists, which has several laws and some interpretations of specific situation. The best interpretation is that as Bicycles are not motor vehicles, it has to be explicitly stated that the law applies to bicycles or refers to a vehicle, which is defined as any device for transportation does not use rails (i.e. anything not a train... don't ask how a train could accidently get onto the road.). All vehicles count as traffic as defined by law. The one gray area that was discussed is it seems U.S. 60 is a limited access highway, which could mean bikes are not allowed, but I don't see any specific rule on that... lets set that aside for a moment. Without that, I will say that yes, the Officer probably misread the law and thought that a bicycle counted as a motor vehicle (which cannot drive at a low speed) when it in fact does not.

Now, this is not to say you did not do anything wrong, because you did. Per Oklahomala law §47-11-103:

No person shall willfully fail or refuse to comply with any lawful order or direction of any police officer invested by law with authority to direct, control or regulate traffic.

This means that any lawful request by the officer you refused is an infraction of this law. So the question becomes was the officer giving you a lawful order? BikeOklahoma offers §47-6-112:

License to be Carried and Displayed on Demand of Peace Officer A. Every licensee shall have his or her driver license in his or her immediate possession at all times when operating a motor vehicle and shall display the same upon demand of a peace officer. Any person violating this subsection shall, upon conviction, be guilty of a misdemeanor.

While it is true that bike is not a motor vehicle, there is one other element that comes into play, §47-10-104 A (likely paraphrased but I can't say if it is true rule as written):

If you are involved in an accident or stopped for a traffic violation, you are required to identify yourself.

Since you do qualify as "Traffic" by the definition of the law, and you were stopped for a traffic violation (even if the cop misread the rule) you are still required to identify yourself to the officer. As the officer was invested by law to regulate traffic, which includes all legal vehicles, motor or not, and he did make a stop on you (even if the law was incorrectly applied) he is within his legal authority to lawfully request you to identify yourself, and request a form of identification (it need not be a drivers liscense... it could be a passport or a state ID) to validate that you are the person you are claiming to be. The judge is correct that you did break the law in this respect and since you payed bail, you are required to return to court.

BikeOklahoma lists several remedies to a cop who misinterprets the laws, none of which involve contesting them at the traffic stop. Had you offered your ID and taken the ticket, you could return to court to plead your case to the judge, who likely would have likely found you innocent. Mistakes in the enforcement of the law do happen (And in fact, I had a similar mistake on the states part happen to me... essentially, I had paid a traffic ticket several months previous and had recieved a reciept to that effect... however, the DMV did not properly check all the boxes and accepted the fact that I had paid, but forward the notice that I had not to the Police... flash-forward several months when I was pulled over for driving on a "suspended license". Despite the fact that it was clearly an error, the officer had to "arrest me" (legally yes, but he released me on my own recognizance and I was given a date to go to booking office to properly file these facts)... and I had to go to court and prepare my case... in the end, the prosecution found the same issue and dropped it.). Even though state and thereby the officer were incorrect in my violation of the law, the side of the road, at 2 am on a holiday weekend was not the place to argue with the cop... the court date was. Had I failed to comply, I would have been arrested for an actual crime, rather than been released to still go about my life until the judicial system did it's own thing.).

  • 1
    Parts of US 60 may be a limited access higway, but most of it certainly is not. Also "the judge is correct that you did break the law in this respect" would be true only if OP was actually charged with a violation of §47-10-104 A. If that section was never mentioned in court, then it should have no bearing on the outcome of the court action.
    – phoog
    Feb 14, 2019 at 15:45
  • 1
    There is no way the stretch of road in the OPs picture is a controlled access highway. Feb 14, 2019 at 21:48
  • @phoog: Well he was arrested and booked in jail for failure to obey a lawful order it seems, so I would imagine that's part of the charges (including whatever there is with the slow driving ticket). OP does say he and the judge discussed it and the Judge still was not on his side at that point.
    – hszmv
    Feb 15, 2019 at 12:56
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    @AlexDoe: The point isn't whether his stop was legal, but whehter your failure to present ID was legal. You weren't in a court which is where you have this fight, you were on the side of the road. The law you broke has no bearing on whether the traffic stop is legal in the first place, because the law comes into play once you are stopped.
    – hszmv
    Mar 20, 2019 at 14:56
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – feetwet
    May 20, 2019 at 17:10

There's not an explicit minimum speed limit, but note that the officer didn't say you were below the limit - he said you obstructed traffic. The limit on that highway is probably about 70 mph, and in the picture it's a single lane with double lines. If any cars need to use the highway while you bike, they will very quickly end up stuck behind you driving at ~20 mph (if that) with no way of legally passing you. So you really would be obstructing traffic.

This isn't specific to bikes - a car driving 20 mph would come under the same rule. Even if the car was driving that slow due to damage, it might still be considered obstruction because the driver didn't choose a slower road. Even if the damage was caused on the road, the officer might tell you to get a tow truck instead. Of course in the realistic situation of getting a flat tire and having to drive 40 on your spare they would probably be more understanding.

Generally the solution to such situations is that the slow vehicle pulls right into the shoulder (and maybe even stops), letting the faster traffic go around. It is technically an illegal pass (not if you pull over and stop) but rarely punished. Possibly you could have also biked on the shoulder or the grass. In any case, when a cop does tell you to stop doing something, your best option is to comply (as you've found out). Keep in mind that riding bikes on a highway is not a constitutional right.

The arrest and ensuing court case was clearly not caused solely by biking, but also refusing to show ID as well as the Tylenol. In all, it doesn't sound very fair, but it's one of those grey areas where you technically didn't do anything illegal, but did get clever with the cop/system, and as a result the system exercised its bureaucratic power to give you the run around. Again, I don't see how your constitutional rights are violated here - if you do, feel free to go to the Supreme Court (and I'd be happy for you if you did - as I said, the situation is unfair and I wish it didn't happen). Unfortunately, the founding fathers did not have the wisdom to include freedom from bureaucracy in the bill of rights. The right to speedy and fair trial is unfortunately subject to reinterpretation of what exactly counts as speedy or fair, just as many other parts of the constitution. In any case, this slow creep of judicial activism is not something you can fight by annoying cops, you can only fight it by voting and possibly practicing in the Supreme Court. I say possibly because I'm skeptical that any legal professional ultimately has much power over the Supreme Justices.

Alternatively, you can also try to sway public opinion so that the police departments change policy, which has actually been happening for bike related law over the past years, but that is not very related to your objections on constitutional grounds.

Is making up a law on the spot an acceptable alternative to the requirement that the cops have to have a reasonable suspicion in order to detain a civilian?

In theory, no. In practice, this is pretty common in the US. Police often don't know the law or they are wrong about it. Whether it is still a reasonable suspicion if the cop misunderstood the law is for the court to decide - and in cases such as yours where there is injustice but not gross injustice and no significant political issue is served by siding with you, the courts tend to default to siding with the police. Also the courts really don't like people making light of the court's rules, so if you flout them, they can "make an example" by throwing the book at you just to ensure that nobody else gets funny ideas in the future.

Remember, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere"

Injustice is indeed bad, but in your last election, did anyone run on a platform eliminating injustice (legal, not economic or social) and upholding constitutional rights? Did you vote for them? Did they win? Did they do what they promised? If not, then as an ideal it is nice, but not very useful to understanding the legal reality.

Was the cop right? Does anyone know of a "minimum speed limit" on US hwy 60 ?

Right to stop you? I'd say yes, based on the first part of my answer. Right to arrest you? Per se, no, it seems unnecessarily heavy-handed. But then you did provoke him by disobeying. I still don't think needlessly harsh treatment from police is justified just because you annoyed the cop, but realistically, you can't expect to annoy a person with power and have no repercussions. You could claim you were harassed, but you wouldn't have a case because the harassment was very minor and debatable.

Was the judge right to make me come back to OK (under threat of arrest warrant) just to tell me that he can not dismiss the case (in case I was to plead not guilty) ?

It's certainly mean of him to do that, but then he doesn't owe it to you to be nice. As for legally, he is perfectly within his rights. Missouri isn't that far and expecting you to appear in court for the arrest is not unreasonable. Granted, for such a trivial thing it's a bit unnecessary - which is why if you are cooperative the police will often offer you the opportunity to "just pay the fine and make it go away". But then we come back to the issue of your attitude to the officer.

I'm not saying that you're not in the right here, but you have to consider that cops are not robots but human beings, as are the courts. Even if it is illegal for him to arrest you, he might arrest you anyway if you give him a reason (such as annoying him). Yes, legally you could then seek restitution and punishment for the cop. But you will have to convince the court of your case, in which you may or may not succeed. Either way, it can cost you money and time. So you have to think of the law not as a law of nature, but as a guideline that will probably be followed more or less, and eventually the courts will ensure some measure of justice (although justice according to them, not you, and based on what they think the situation was, and not reality). But in terms of the here and now, you have to also consider the human factor, which might dominate over the legal in determining what will happen next and whether you'll be happy with it.

  • Instead of "I'm not saying that you're not in the right here" why not call it for what it is? The cop and the judge were wrong. We cannot both be right. Vould I have avoided it? Yes, through unconditional obedience, but that isn't the question. They are both guilty of "Abuse of Power".
    – Alex Doe
    May 18, 2019 at 15:50
  • 1
    Well, right in what sense, @AlexDoe? Purely in terms of legal philosophy, yes, both of us can agree you were in the right. In terms of acting so as to get the best results for yourself, I don't think so. It is absolutely an abuse of power, but sometimes resisting the abuse rapidly elicits more and more abuse.
    – Consis
    May 25, 2019 at 2:57
  • You say: "officer didn't say you were below the limit". Question states: The law that the officer accused me of having broken was that bikes "need to have the same speed as the cars".
    – Alex Doe
    May 25, 2019 at 4:12
  • @AlexDoe The officer made a mistake stopping you. But he did stop you for a traffic violation, whether he was right or wrong, and asking for your id was lawful. So you had to show your id.
    – gnasher729
    May 25, 2019 at 20:14
  • @gnasher729 Thank you for your imput, but that mentality renders the 4th amendment useless. Anytime a cop wants to violate it, he can just make up a fictitious law on the spot and people have to show papers. The officer did not make a mistake. He did it intentionally. No one in his right mind can say that the road in the picture is a controlled access highway with a minimum speed limit. He could have kindly asked me to take a different route. I would have had no problem with that
    – Alex Doe
    May 25, 2019 at 20:47

If I were a federal judge:

  • Judge: What happened?
  • Defendant: .. he said.. I said.. He made up a law on the spot just to bypass the law of the land and violate my 4th amendment rights. Your honor, the whole case is based on a lie. Please dismiss it.
  • Judge: Case dismissed. Cop put on notice with a warning.

    To the local judge that made the defendant come from out of state without giving him a chance to argue his case:

    • You should have accepted his offer to pay the ticket when you had a chance. Now you and the cop have to give him recourse for his loss. If you don't like bikes on hwy 60, kindly tell them to take a different route or put a "no bicycles allowed" sign or a minimum speed limit sign. Until then, stop using your authority to harass people.
  • That's like saying "if I was a bird, I could fly". You are neither a bird nor a judge. If you were a judge then you would see the situation very differently.
    – gnasher729
    May 25, 2019 at 23:22
  • @gnasher729 - What's wrong with saying "if I were a bird I could fly"?
    – Alex Doe
    May 26, 2019 at 12:41
  • @AlexDoe what is wrong with it? it is not especially useful. If I were a federal judge, I would likewise tear that cop a new one. But there is a whole system in place that works wonderfully at keeping people like you and me from federal judgeships and installing asshats instead. The kind of people who get federal judgeships think the cop was acting reasonably and the OP should be rotting in jail.
    – emory
    Nov 12, 2021 at 20:20

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