Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Cycling & the Law, 1890s

I was reminded that JSTOR now makes available U.S. journal articles published before 1923 that are in the public domain -- I searched on "bicycle." I was very surprised by the number of articles retrieved in legal journals about bicycle cases. I also found a review of the book The Road Rights and Liabilities of Wheelmen, (by George B. Clementson, of the Wisconsin Bar. Price 5o cents. Chicago: Callaghan & Co., 1895). The review states, "The bicycle as a means of locomotion has evidently come to stay. This essay is therefore opportunely published to define the status of the wheel and to give information to riders of their rights and duties in respect to the public highway. Mr. Clementson has made a successful and exhaustive collection and digest of the decided cases and where there are none upon important points he has ably reasoned from analogy. We commend the book to every wheelman."

"Tweed Ride" - 1896
This bucolic view of cycling doesn't represent all the potential legal ramifications . . .

It is possible to see the full book that has been digitized from the University of Michigan in Hathitrust.

The road rights and liabilities of wheelmen, with table of contents and list of cases.

Preface - The bicycle as a practical vehicle is comparatively recent. Only within the last decade has this means of locomotion and travel assumed an importance which justifies the statement that it is to-day one of the principal agents of passenger transportation. Its comparative novelty of course precludes the wheel from very extensive notice, as yet, by the courts. Yet bicycle law is not lacking, and is constantly receiving accessions. Many important questions in regard to the rights and liabilities of bicyclers are daily arising, and a solution of these is frequently sought by resort to the judicial tribunals. Few of these suits ever reach the courts of last resort; and in consequence the reported cases are not rich in bicycle law, though they contain enough upon the subject to pretty clearly define the status of the wheelman.
Notwithstanding the absence of much case law, the book runs on for 200 pages. The amount of discussion of which roads are available to riders and why alone makes one feel like perhaps the problems we have now aren't so bad.

1 comment:

  1. I recently obtained an original copy of Clementson's book, and use it when I talk about Bike Law today - we fight the same issues today that cyclists and "bike lawyers" were fighting in the 1880s - Why are we on the road, where do we ride, what are the rights of cyclists compared to others on the road... I'm presenting a 3 hour CLE on "Bike Law" for lawyers on 5/2 and the Clementson book will be discussed at some length!