Tag Archive for cycling accidents

In today’s news: the story of a devastating bike accident and a moving recovery

An upstate NY physician and hospital CEO sees the medical system from the other side after a paralyzing bike accident in which he diagnosed his own injury and directed the emergency response. And slowly comes back with a new attitude towards life, family and medical care.

On May 30, the lifelong cyclist was finishing a quick, 18-mile ride near his cottage on Canandaigua Lake. He enjoyed the view from a hilltop, looked down and saw nobody else on the road. He likes to go fast, and he leaned into a hairpin turn, like a motorcyclist, at about 23 mph. Suddenly an oncoming car appeared in Berk’s path. “Obviously he’d been parked behind the hill where I couldn’t see him,” he said.

Berk braked. He feared hitting the guard rail and falling down the steep bank. So he tried a mountain bike move on his road bike. He leaned back and intentionally skidded, successfully turning the bike to face uphill, trying to get out of the way of the car. But when he started to pedal, he flew over the handlebars.

His rear tire had blown.

He hit the ground and struck his head, awake.

“Oh, good news, the bicycle helmet worked,” he recalled thinking. “Then I realized I couldn’t feel my legs.”

His left arm didn’t feel like it was part of his body. Then he lost feeling in his right arm.

“Oh no, this is bad,” he thought. He correctly diagnosed a fracture of a vertebra high in his neck.

He was panting, which he identified as trouble breathing caused by the paralysis.

“I was worried I might die right there.”

Lying on the road, he remembered the late actor Christopher Reeve and thought, “If I get out of this not being on a ventilator, I’ll be happy.”

Definitely worth reading the full story.

……….

The Times offers a more detailed report on Chief Beck’s meeting with cyclists, along with an editorial response supporting cyclists — and a comment suggesting we’re the whole problem. Danceralamode learns from a passing motorist that her bike is an instrument of death; no wonder drivers are so afraid of us. Can you recycle a bike helmet? Livable streets don’t mean much without policies that free women to use them. Comparing utility cycling versus recreational riding; personally, I think the best way to defeat whatever progress we’ve made is to pit different types of cyclists against each other. A San Jacinto rider works out by aiming for 1,000 miles a month with an extra 100 pounds on his bike. New Jersey cyclists form their first state-wide biking organization. Talking brewing and bicycling with the sponsor of the Tour de Fat. Creating a bike map in 5-minute increments to eliminate excuses. USA Today examines the most dangerous state in the union for pedestrians and cyclists; surprisingly, it’s not California. . Brit cyclists are urged to press politicians for where they stand on biking issues. A British rider is deliberately struck and killed in Saudi Arabia — or maybe not, depending on your perspective A Toronto mayoral candidate supports bike lanes, except where they’re needed.

Finally, a Birmingham, AL writer complains about rude cyclists in their skintight clothes.

In 1891.

Who is at fault in cycling collisions? And who decides?

Let’s go back to that buzzing incident with the garbage truck, in which the driver honked loudly as he passed me with only about a foot’s clearance.

What if I hadn’t managed to maintain control over my bike when the horn startled me? As I noted yesterday, I could have swerved to the left, which could have meant going under his wheels. Or I might have swerved right, where I would have bounced off the parked cars, and possibly been thrown back underneath him.

So who would be at fault when the police filed their report?

Would it be the driver who passed too closely, honking his horn in a threatening manner, or the cyclist who responded by losing control and colliding with the truck?

Or would they decide it was just one of those things, and no one was really to blame?

Or take today’s ride, when I was nearly right-hooked by a truck driver who passed me on the left, then made a right turn directly across my path — while I was still beside him.

Fortunately, I try to anticipate such things. So I grabbed my brakes, dropped behind him, then passed him on his left before he could even finish his turn.

But what if I hadn’t?

What if I’d collided with the truck? Would he be at fault because he turned into my path? Or would it be my fault because I hit him?

The law suggests the driver should be at fault. Yet when a Baltimore cyclist was killed recently in collision just like that, the police determined that he was at fault — evidently they felt it was his responsibility to somehow avoid the truck that cut him off.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Bay Area cyclists are responsible for twice as many bike vs. motor vehicle collisions as drivers are. The same article quotes statistics from the California Highway Patrol, which found cyclists responsible for nearly 60% of all statewide cycling fatalities.

Yet a recent study by a Toronto physician found that cyclists were only responsible for less than 10% of local collisions.

So are Canadian cyclists really that much better than California riders? Or does the problem actually rest with who is analyzing the data — and investigating the accidents?

Do you really have to ask?

The problem isn’t that police hate cyclists, despite common perceptions in the cycling community. It’s that most officers receive little or no training in bike law — and none in the mechanics of cycling or investigation of bike accidents.

That’s not just my opinion. Consider this recent quote from a retired police officer:

In virtually every state, bicycles have most of the same rights and responsibilities as motor vehicle operators. Many officers don’t seem to know, or care, that they do. Training in bicycle traffic law is virtually nonexistent in police academies and crash investigation courses.

Unfortunately, many serious road cyclists know and understand traffic laws regulating bicycles far better than most street cops. Officers who have received quality bike patrol training, such as the IPMBA Police Cyclist™ Course, have been trained in the legal status of bicycles in traffic, proper and legal lane use, and other pertinent provisions.

When investigating a bicycle-vehicle crash, it may be a good idea to involve a trained bike patrol officer to help get a comprehensive perspective as to the bicycle-related factors and conditions involved. Criminal charges may be warranted. An officer knowledgeable in bike law could be a victim cyclist’s best advocate, or a legal opponent, providing the details for fair prosecution.

The simple fact is that the operation and mechanics of bicycles are different from that of motor vehicles. And unless the investigating officer understands that, he or she won’t be able to accurately determine how the collision occurred and who is actually at fault.

Like the infamous downtown Hummer incident, in which the investigating officer concluded that the cyclist hit the SUV, even though the rear of the bike was damaged and the rider was thrown forward — suggesting that he somehow backed into the other vehicle.

Or my own case, when I was struck by a road-raging driver while stopped at a stop sign. Yet the investigating officer chose to accept the driver’s explanation that I had run the stop sign and fallen while making a right hand turn, even though that would have meant falling to the left while leaning into a right turn — something an officer who rides, or who was at least trained in cycling, would have understood was virtually impossible.

Then there’s the fact that in a car/bike collision, the driver is usually unhurt, while the cyclist can be seriously injured or worse. Which means that the police often hear just one side of the story.

Maybe that’s why, in virtually any repot of a collision at a controlled intersection, you’ll hear that the cyclist ran the red light or stop sign — never that the driver ignored the rider’s right of way or ran the signal themselves.

That also could explain why so many drivers involved in hit-from-behind collisions claim that the cyclist darted out in front of them without warning. Never that the driver was distracted or failed to see the rider in the first place.

In fact, many cyclists refer to that type of collision as an SWSS — Single Witness Suicide Swerve — because the frequency of such collisions would suggest that there must be a lot of death-wish cyclists out there.

That’s not to say cyclists are never at fault. I’ve seen enough riders attempt to pull off stupid life-risking stunts — myself included — to know that’s not true.

But the simple fact is, every cyclist is, and will remain, a 2nd class citizen on the streets until all police officers are trained in bike law.

And every bicycle-involved collision is investigated by an officer who understands the physics and realities of cycling.

………

Next year’s LA Bike Tour won’t be held in conjunction with the new Stadium to the Sea L.A. Marathon. Efforts are underway to ban cars from the annual bike-banning Festival of Lights instead. Where do I sign up? Streetsblog notes the anger over new bike lanes in Santa Clarita, where some residents feel ambushed, while others fault the design. Bike thefts are up across the country, including Downtown L.A.; some victims are using social media to get them back, Lance included. Even with the current budget cuts, Elk Grove gets state funding for a new bike overpass. Minnesota artists create bike racks that salute their Scandinavian heritage. Lebron James leads local kids and cyclists in a charity bike ride; so when can we expect the first annual Kobe Bryant Bike Classic? Even bike-friendly Portland suffers from the fatal hit-and-run plague. Cyclists roll by in a Chinatown bike lane as a NY politician holds a press conference to claim no one ever uses it. Finally, an 81-year old Welsh paperboy has his bike stolen while one of his customers thanks him with a piano recital.

Bike law change #11: Investigate and prosecute any reported incidence of vehicular assault as a criminal violation

Awhile back, following the infamous Mandeville Canyon brake test, a woman wrote to describe her experience as bicycle commuter along a major east-west thoroughfare in the San Fernando Valley.

Like many streets in this city, there was no shoulder or bike lane, so she was forced to ride in the traffic lane, as impatient drivers honked or raced closely past her. One in particular, apparently angry at being stuck behind her at a red light, revved his engine and lurched forward, actually making contact and lifting her rear wheel off the ground in what she could only interpret as a not-so-subtle threat.

Actually, it was a crime. Or if it wasn’t, it certainly should have been. Because while most of us see a car as simply a means of getting from here to there, in the wrong hands, it can be a deadly weapon.  And there is no real difference between threatening a cyclist with a car or with a gun, since both are capable of inflicting serious injury or death.

Sections 240 – 248 of the California Penal Code define assault as “…an unlawful attempt, coupled with a present ability, to commit a violent injury on the person of another;” battery is defined as “any willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon the person of another.” Meanwhile, section 245 sets a penalty of up to 4 years in prison for assault with a deadly weapon other than a gun.

Like a car, for instance.

Of course, there are other ways a car can be used as a deadly weapon, from intentionally causing an accident by striking the cyclist or forcing the cyclist to strike the car, as the good doctor has been charged with doing, to intentionally striking a rider with an open car door, or forcing the rider off the road or into another vehicle.

Any one of these can cause serious injury or death. Even simply throwing something at a rider from a moving vehicle — as has happened to many, if not most of us, at one time or another — can cause a rider to lose control of his bike, with potentially deadly consequences.

But just try to report something like that to the police; in most cases, they’ll say that since they didn’t see it, there’s nothing they can do. Or if they do bother to respond, usually because of an injury to the rider, they’ll investigate the incident as a traffic accident, rather than the criminal activity it is.

Yet they would never tell the victim of an armed robbery that there’s no point in investigating, since they didn’t actually see the crime take place; nor would they investigate a mugging as a simple accident. Even a report of someone brandishing a gun in a threatening manner is enough to provoke a massive police response.

But commit the same crime with a car, and you’re virtually guaranteed of getting away with it.

So let’s demand the protection we deserve. Let’s contact our legislators, and insist that they amend sections 240 – 248 to clearly specify that anyone who uses a motor vehicle to threaten, intimidate, attack or injure a cyclist or pedestrian can, and should, be charged with assault and/or battery with a deadly weapon, and subject to a prison term and seizure of the vehicle, as well as permanent loss of driving privileges.

And insist that any report of a motor vehicle being used in such a manner be investigated by the police to the fullest extent possible as a criminal matter, rather than a traffic infraction.

Because your life, and mine, may depend on it.

 

 

An elderly woman was hit and killed by a teenage cyclist on his way to band practice yesterday. Vision Zero attempts to end the body count; isn’t it time Los Angeles got on board? Green LA Girl plans on attending the LACBC’s Bicycle Road Skills Class (and early wishes for a happy birthday); meanwhile, C.I.C.L.E. is offering an Intro to City Riding for eight lucky riders, which takes place the same day as the inaugural Tour de Ballona, none of which I’ll be attending unless these damn allergies improve. Evidently, L.A. now has its own version of N.Y.’s popular Bike Snob. And finally, this is just one reason why those allergies are killing me today.

 

Bike law change #10: Assign greater responsibility to the more dangerous and less vulnerable road users

Disgruntled correctly noted that some members of the European Union — notably Denmark and the Netherlands — have recently changed their laws to hold the driver automatically responsible for any accident involving a cyclist, except in the case of particularly outrageous and illegal behavior by the cyclist.

As appealing as that sounds, I doubt something like could ever be passed, or implemented, in this country. And frankly, I’m not sure that it should, having seen the way some cyclists ride around here.

However, the rational behind the law is sound.

As the law currently stands, drivers and cyclists share equal responsibility for avoiding accidents (although that’s not always how the police see it). But cars and SUVs are, by their very nature, dangerous vehicles. And in any collision between a two-ton vehicle and a 200+/- pound cyclist, the rider will inevitably come out on the losing end. Or as the European Commission document behind the proposal to extend the Danish and Dutch laws to other countries puts it, “Whoever is responsible, pedestrians and cyclists usually suffer more.”

Simply put, no matter who is at fault, if a car hits a bicyclist — or vice versa — the car may suffer a few hundred, or possibly even a few thousand, dollars in damage. But the cyclist is likely to suffer serious, potentially life-threatening injuries.

Or worse.

So let’s amend the law to reflect that reality. And put more responsibility to avoid an accident — and therefore, more liability in the event of an accident — on the operator of the more dangerous vehicle. Not all responsibility, but enough to reflect the greater vulnerability cyclists and pedestrians face on every road and at every intersection, every day.

 

L.A.’s only Flying Pigeon dealer tells how to save 30% one your very own FP. What can I say? When the name stops making me smile, I’ll stop writing about it. LACBC plans an ice cream ride this weekend. Toronto cyclists say bike lanes make sidewalks safer. The hot look for British cyclists this year is hi-vis. And finally, thanks to Damien at Streetsblog L.A. for Tuesday’s link to this series, along with Alex at Westside Bikeside, Gary at Gary Rides Bikes, Timor at Los Angeles Rides, and all the others who’ve helped draw attention to these proposed law changes.

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