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All things being equal, on my bike I would rather be shot at from a moving vehicle than have someone in a moving car intentionally open a door on me*. A car aimed at a human being is a potentially lethal device.

Imagine if a cyclist reported that someone in a car waved a gun and threatened to shoot her. Presumably, the response would be to track down the car as quickly as possible. I’m guessing that police would be waiting at the address where the car was registered and that other police would be looking for the car. With any luck, the car and its passengers would be found quickly, questioned, and  a proper investigation could proceed.

The other day, a Newton grandmother reported that, as a car passed her on her bike, a passenger on her side opened a door and threatened to “door” her. Understandably shaken, she took the license number and immediately called the police. The officer that responded said that there was nothing that he could do because he hadn’t seen the incident.

What a total failure to protect the safety of a Newton resident and a total failure to understand the nature of the crime. There is no requirement that a police officer be present to investigate and potentially prosecute someone for threatening someone’s life. The fact that the instrument used to perpetrate the threat is a car doesn’t make it a motor vehicle violation. It was a crime and should have been treated as such.

It’s not just the threat that matters. It was incredibly reckless behavior. There are so many things that could have gone wrong and resulted in the cyclist’s death or injury, regardless of the morons’ intent.

It is not yet clear what, if any, investigation was done or has been done. Acting Chief Howard Mintz says that both the crime and the response will be investigated. But, it is more likely than not that the opportunity to find the guy who made the threat was greatly diminished by the failure of the officer to recognize the crime for what it was.

Bike and pedestrian advocate Aaron Naparstek is fond of writing that, if you want to kill someone and get away with it, run them over. Police just don’t treat motor vehicles seriously as weapons. We saw this in the case of the bicyclist who was run over on Comm. Ave. a few years ago, passing legally on the right. Not even a citation for the driver. Hey, how was the driver supposed to know that her actions could result in someone’s death or serious injury?

This is a test of the Newton Police Department’s seriousness about bicycle and pedestrian safety. I don’t want to suggest that this incident reflects frequent behavior. In fifteen years of biking in, from, and to Newton, I can count on one hand the number of times a driver has driven in an intentionally threatening manner. The daily risk is the inattentive. But, the larger point is whether or not Newton makes drivers accountable. Cars can kill. Drivers should drive like they understand the risk and responsibility. And, the police should take dangerous driving — intentional or otherwise — very seriously.

* The likelihood of hitting the target (me) is much greater with a car door than a gun, and the likelihood of death or serious injury from the door is not meaningfully less.