A NorCal cyclist dies, and CHP blames the victim

Unbelievably — or all too believably — the CHP has concluded that the death of a Los Altos Hills cyclist last month was her own fault.

This despite the fact that the driver of the truck that killed her has been involved in two previous fatal collisions. And officially exonerated in all three.

Maybe he’s just unlucky.

Or maybe those he shares the road with are.

According to the official version, the driver, Gabriel Manzur Vera, was travelling in the right lane and signaling his move into a right turn lane when Lauren Ward attempted to pass on her bike to his left. The report says Ward attempted to make an unsafe turn — where she was turning or why is unexplained — and fell to her right, where she was run over by Vera’s massive 26-wheel truck.

The report does note the lack of witnesses, as well as the possibility that there may or may not have been another vehicle involved in some unexplained way.

In other words, they really have no idea what the hell happened. But the CHP is still jumping through hoops to blame the victim, rather than a driver whose record would suggest that he’s either one of the unluckiest truckers on the road, or doesn’t belong on it.

To be fair, it is possible that the official report could be correct.

Ward may have swerved to avoid a pothole or glass, and lost control of her bike. She may have been buzzed by a passing car and fallen as a result.

But just as likely is the possibility that the actions of a careless, inattentive or overly aggressive driver caused her death in some way. Maybe he bumped her as he swung to the left to make his turn, or came close enough that she made a panic turn in an attempt to avoid him.

Maybe she wasn’t even passing the truck. It’s entirely possible that the driver was upset at being stuck behind a bike and made an unsafe move to pass her on the right, possibly bumping her with his mirror as he went by.

We’ll probably never know.

What we do know is that the CHP has already demonstrated a clear bias against cyclists, concluding that cyclists are at fault in 60% of all bike-involved collisions — despite numerous studies from other areas showing just the opposite. Or are California cyclists just that much more dangerous than riders in the rest of the world?

As Bob Mionske notes, police bias against cyclists is not unusual — whether out of animosity, a lack of understanding how bicycles operate in collisions or just poor training.

But as this case clearly illustrates, if you’re involved in a collision on a state highway, chances are, the investigating officers are likely to conclude that you’re at fault.

And cyclists will never be safe on California roads until that changes.

.………

Yesterday I heard from an attorney who’s representing a cyclist injured when she ran into sand on the Marvin Braude bike path in Venice in October 2009. He’s looking for anyone who might have suffered a similar accident and filed a claim as a result. If that happened to you or someone you know, email me at bikinginla at hotmail dot com and I’ll forward it to him.

.………

Bob Mionske digs into his archives to examine the question of whether cyclists can ride in a crosswalk; California’s state legislature recently tried to clarify that matter, only to create more conflict due to poor wording.

The law now says cyclists are allowed to ride “along” any crosswalk — but does that mean we can ride on it or next to it? After all, when you walk along a path you’re walking on it, but when you walk along a river, you don’t walk in it.

Last I heard, the LAPD was looking for clarification from the Attorney General’s office before deciding how to enforce the law.

.………

Writing for Grist, Elly Blue jumps into the great helmet debate, concluding that the argument over whether or not to wear a helmet is the wrong question. Meanwhile, Traffic’s Tom Vanderbilt provides a forum for Dr. Ian Walker — famed for a study showing motorists drive closer to riders wearing helmets — who says:

This leads me straight onto the big issue: I do not know whether or not bicycle helmets save lives. And, critically, nor does anybody else.

Interestingly, Walker concludes exactly as Blue does, that the emphasis should be on making our streets safer, rather than insisting on body armor for riders. And Bicycling’s Fit Chick relates a story of her husband’s injury to argue why you should wear a helmet all the time.

The funny thing with helmets is, you don’t need one until the one time you do. Personally, I always wear a helmet for the same reason I always carry a patch kit in addition to a spare tube; chances are I’ll never need it, but I’d rather have one than wish afterwards that I did.

.………

Bike Revolution works with Kryptonite to bring their free international bike registration program to the U.S.; I’ll put my Pulse ID tags (note — the registration is free, the tags aren’t) on as soon as I figure out where I packed them.

.………

Ten reasons to attend the LACBC fundraiser at the Library Alehouse on Tuesday, the 28th. Flying Pigeon explains how to track stand. Hats off to the Burbank city employees who donated their time to help repair bikes to give to needy families. A private bike rental company asks for free space on the Hermosa Beach pier, after gaining a similar concession from Manhattan Beach. Rain cuts the turnout at last weekend’s Hunger Ride in Orange County to benefit the Second Harvest canned food drive; there’s still time to make a donation to a very worthy cause. Speaking of worthy causes, friends are attempting to raise $10,000 to pay an air ambulance flight to take a critically injured cyclist back home to Denver; you can donate here.

Send an e-carol and Schwinn will donate bikes and helmets to children across the U.S. In case you missed it before, Bicycling has a great story about a 501 pound man who saved his own life by taking up the bike — even if it did require a custom-made bike to support his weight. Urban cycling needs to attract more women and people of color in order to grow. Tour de Fat raised over $3.3 million for non-profit organizations. Portland holds a vigil for a cyclist killed by a drunk driver last Wednesday. A key Portland bridge is closing for two years, so the state DOT makes special accommodations for pedestrians and cyclists. A biking flautist names her new band Bike Lane. In an incredibly biased story, the New York Post blames 2-wheel heels for a 16% increase in vehicle/bike collisions; yeah, it couldn’t possible have to do with more cyclists on the streets or drivers unwilling or unable to share the road with them.

A look at pro cycling’s all-time ugliest jerseys; trust me, I’ve seen worse. Two-thirds of all UK bike thefts occur at home. A left cross (our right) collision from a rider’s perspective. It looks like Britain’s acclaimed Bikeability bike safety training program may survive, despite budget cutbacks. After a cyclist hits the side of a red-light running car, the road raging driver and his passengers attack the rider, as well as a bus carrying a witness. A former Argentine national champion takes his own life following a kidnapping. Good advice on how to ride in winter weather; a lot of these tips will work on L.A.’s soggy streets.

Finally, after a friend of her sons was killed as they were riding together, a mother urges motorists to drive safely.

Congratulations to recent guest writer Zeke and his wife for their 28th anniversary.

6 comments

  1. […] Biking In L.A. Notes State Has Changed Law About Sidewalk Riding.  But Nobody Can Figure Out What It Means […]

  2. It may be that the CHP officer taking the report only hears one side of the story. If a report is taken at the scene, that means the bicyclist is likely dead, or on the way to the hospital. If neither side were injured, then a report would be filed later by the parties involved, if at all.

    That skews the data, and leads to a bias. If 60% of bicyclists cause the collisions, then it is perceived that bicyclists are likely at fault when investigating. No proof of that being the case, so it is just an assumption on my part.

    This doesn’t explain the disconnect between California and other states. One would think the same problem exists everywhere. Obviously there is a disconnect somewhere.

    • @Alan – There isn’t a disconnect when you compare police reports. The link to the Arizona study, for example, notes a 57/43 split with cyclists more often at fault when you look at the police reports. Eco Velo’s story is about a study using bike mounted cameras and looks at ride videos.

      You’re right that the investigating officer often hears only one side of the story — and that’s sometimes true even when the cyclist is present. I’ve heard stories where the police refuse to even take a statement from the cyclist.

      • Thanks Richard,
        I looked at the Arizona link, noting only the top portion (fatalities), not going down to the Mesa citation. Interesting the violation as “other” being placed against the cyclist six times more than the motorist (60 vs 10 respectively).

  3. My gut feeling (which could be totally wrong) — Lauren got side swiped by a passing car that knocked her into the side of the truck.

    I’m familiar with Vera’s Santa Cruz incident and the intersection where it happened. Perhaps Vera could have prevented that fatality, but the cyclist *did* attempt to pass the truck on the right as Vera made his right turn, and several witnesses stated Vera had his right turn signal on.

    Finally, Vera’s first fatality in 2003 was clearly the victim’s fault – a car driver crossed the center line and hit Vera’s truck head on on Hwy 1 about midway between Santa Cruz and Monterey.

  4. […] often, they’ve appeared to show a bias against cyclists, concluding that we’re at fault in most wrecks involving […]

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