Legally Speaking: Can Strava get you in trouble with the law?
Roadie: “A cop on my group ride heard me bragging about hitting 56mph on a descent where the speed limit was 40mph. He jokingly said he would go to my Strava account and issue me a ticket. But could he issue a ticket this way? And, can my Strava be used in other ways, say after a crash with a motor vehicle?”
Lawyer: “No, your ‘KOM’ descent will not pass muster for a traffic violation; however, your Strava account contains useful information that may be used as evidence in a variety of different legal settings. This means that Strava could be your best friend or worst enemy depending on your case.”
Now, let’s back up. We all know what Strava (and other ride-sharing apps) do — functionally, these apps turn your smartphone into a launchpad for interaction with other riders. For instance, Strava allows you to track and analyze the speeds of your rides and then share what you accomplished with others online. That said, most Strava users don’t fully understand the legal ramifications of their uploads.
Can Strava get you into trouble with the law? Here is what you need to know.
Law enforcement and Strava – some background
Law enforcement and Strava have a murky relationship depending on the scenario. For example, San Francisco prosecutors used a cyclist’s Strava account history and grossly negligent behavior it documented, as evidence to prosecute him for vehicular manslaughter when he killed a pedestrian while using the app in March 2012. It’s fair to say that Strava was this cyclist’s worst enemy. After all, the ride-sharing app offered prosecutors direct evidence of his riding behavior right up to the collision.
But what about regular-old speeding tickets? Rest assured, while Strava tracks your speed with GPS technology, it does so without the precision necessary to impose liability for a traffic violation. Law enforcement cannot give you a ticket unless it can prove your violation with sufficient evidence. For example, a speed-radar used by a highway patrol officer will detect your speed with precision. In contrast, Strava monitors your speed by frequently pinpointing your location, rather than continuously tracking it. Strava admits its tracking speeds are subject to a margin of error of 50 feet, which means that your upload speeds do not create evidence sufficient to prove guilt of a traffic violation.
So, unless you ride like a complete maniac and injure pedestrians or property, you probably don’t need to worry about law enforcement using your Strava uploads against you. That said, we should go back to the “trove of evidence” Strava provides because your uploads can carry serious legal ramifications in a personal injury case.
What is evidence and how is it used?
First off, you should know what data from your Strava account might be used as evidence. To be used in court, the data must be relevant. It is relevant if it has the tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without it being present. In other words, it must help the judge or jury get a better understanding of the facts of the case. Your Strava uploads, Beacon, and Flyby features can be used in court.
This brings us to how your Strava account can be used as evidence.
Strava contains several features that may be useful in a legal proceeding. For starters, Strava’s GPS technology can reveal where you were located on the road and the speed you were traveling at when the vehicle collided into you. This could be very helpful information — especially if the vehicle ran a red light or took a right turn without looking. Second, your Strava history can also be used as evidence of what a collision has cost you in terms of riding time. This rubric, especially for roadies, is valuable to establish the mileage and training lost because a driver couldn’t be troubled to use their turning signal. Lastly, The FlyBy and Beacon features on the app show whether other Strava riders rode past the location of your collision, and they save that information. This could allow you to contact a witness days after the collision, someone who may have seen who was at fault but did not stop at the time. Moreover, the Beacon feature can alert other riders nearby, your family, and even friends of your location. This could be life-saving after a hit-and-run. As you can see, Strava can offer a lot of advantages, but it can also jeopardize your personal injury claim.
What about my Strava history?
Strava can get you into trouble if you ride in an illegal and unsafe way. For example, Strava uploads have the potential of revealing a long history of 56mph speeds in 40mph zones. This could be damaging information for you upon a collision with a motor vehicle — especially if it is unclear who is at fault. Under these circumstances, any information relevant and determinative to your personal injury claim will be discoverable evidence by the opposing party, and certainly, your Strava account history falls within those boundaries. This leaves one wondering if it is possible to conceal a negligent Strava history? No, concealing a negligent Strava history in a legal proceeding would be a bad idea.
According to Bike Attorney Miles B. Cooper, failure to produce Strava uploads, upon a valid request from the opposing party, or destruction of the data could result in court-ordered sanctions. In other words, dumping your data at that point will get you into big trouble. Therefore, if a roadie’s Strava history illustrates him or her as a consistently negligent or even reckless rider, that damaging information may be used against them — even though he or she may not have been at fault for the cause of the collision. Hence, roadies should be mindful when uploading KOM or QOM descents. A long history of cutting it close can turn an innocent rider into what the legal community refers to as an “unsympathetic plaintiff.” You do not want this to happen to you in the event that a collision occurs. This brings me to my final point: Can you blame Strava for your personal injury?
What about Strava’s liability?
In 2012, the family of Willam “Kim” Flint, who died while using Strava in Berkeley, California, sued Strava based on the theory that the app encouraged him and thereby caused his death. The judge, in my opinion, rightfully ruled against Flint’s family based on the reason that he was engaged in an inherently dangerous activity and that Flint assumed that risk. After Flint’s death, Strava took feedback from riders about dangerous segments and in some cases, those segments were removed As a result, do not expect that you will be able to blame Strava for your collision or injury because both the law and design of the app are stacked against you.
Strava and other activity sharing applications offer a trove of evidence, all of which could have significant legal ramifications in your legal case. That trove of information has its advantages and disadvantages in court, which means your app can be your best friend or worst enemy. Keep that in mind, because a long and documented history of cutting it close could turn a jury against you.
Now read the fine print:
Bob Mionske is a former competitive cyclist who represented the U.S. at the 1988 Olympic Games (where he finished fourth in the road race), the 1992 Olympics, as well as winning the 1990 national championship road race.
After retiring from racing in 1993, he coached the Saturn Professional Cycling team for one year before heading off to law school. Mionske’s practice is now split between personal-injury work, representing professional athletes as an agent and other legal issues facing endurance athletes (traffic violations, contract, criminal charges, intellectual property, etc.).
Mionske is also the author of “Bicycling and the Law,” designed to be the primary resource for cyclists to consult when faced with a legal question. It provides readers with the knowledge to avoid many legal problems in the first place, and informs them of their rights, their responsibilities, and what steps they can take if they do encounter a legal problem. If you have a cycling-related legal question please send it to Bob, and he will answer as many of these questions privately as he can. He will also select a few questions to answer in this column. General bicycle-accident advice can be found at bicyclelaw.com.
The information provided in the “Legally Speaking” column is not legal advice. The information provided on this public website is provided solely for the general interest of the visitors to this website. The information contained in the column applies to general principles of American jurisprudence and may not reflect current legal developments or statutory changes in the various jurisdictions and therefore should not be relied upon or interpreted as legal advice. Understand that reading the information contained in this column does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Bob Mionske. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained in the website without first seeking the advice of legal counsel.