Tag Archive for SMPD

Are police in bike-friendly Santa Monica holding a dooring victim to a different standard?

Are cyclists being held to a different standard?

So it would seem in bike-friendly Santa Monica.

This past Friday, a cyclist was critically injured when he ran into a car door while riding south on 11th near Oak, just below Ocean Park Blvd.

The rider, identified only as a man in his 40s, reportedly flew over the door and landed directly on his head, suffering a life-threatening head injury.

It’s worth noting in this particular case that he wasn’t wearing a helmet, as the story points out; this is exactly the sort of slow speed collision bike helmets are design to protect against.

And then the officer goes on to immediately blame the victim, accusing the rider of being drunk at the time of the collision.  According to Santa Monica Patch, SMPD Sgt. Richard Lewis said,

“Alcohol played a big role,” Lewis said. “We do not know that he is going to survive.”

He goes on to add,

“There will not be any criminal charges,” he said. “It appears to be an accident.”

Witnesses said that the rider had been swerving in and out of traffic lanes before he hit the car door, which had been left open for several seconds.

By reading the news stories, it certainly sounds like the riding was completely at fault; a drunk rider collided with a car door that he should have seen and been able to avoid.

And maybe it happened just that way.

Then again, maybe it didn’t.

While the police spokesperson suggests the rider was drunk and there’s a reference to a blood test being done at the hospital, there’s no report of just how high his blood alcohol level was. He may have had a couple of drinks, or he may have been plastered.

Then again, it may not really matter.

One thing I’ve learned dealing with the LAPD on other cases is that under California law, whether or not a driver is drunk is a secondary factor unrelated to the cause of a collision.

For instance, let’s say two cars collide at an intersection, and one of the drivers is drunk. If the drunk driver ran the red light, he caused the collision by running the light — not by being drunk. His drunkenness might be why he ran the light, but it’s not the cause of the collision under the law.

On the other hand, if it was the other driver who ran the light, the fact that his victim was drunk is entirely unrelated to the cause of the collision.

Yet in this case, police are suggesting that drunkenness was the cause.

Even though state law prohibits opening a driver’s-side car door if it interferes with traffic. And then, only as long as necessary to get in and out of the vehicle.

22517.  No person shall open the door of a vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless it is reasonably safe to do so and can be done without interfering with the movement of such traffic, nor shall any person leave a door open upon the side of a vehicle available to moving traffic for a period of time longer than necessary to load or unload passengers.

The Times story reports that the driver left the door open while she gathered her things, which would seem to be a clear — yet non-cited — violation of CVC 22517.

The driver should have gathered her things before opening the door, or she could have moved around to the other side of the car where the open door would not have interfered with traffic.

We’ve also learned from the CHP in the Carol Schreder case that witness reports of what a driver was doing in the moments leading up to a collision have little or no relevance to the actual collision.

In that case, numerous witnesses said they saw the driver operating his truck at a high speed and in a careless manner for several miles prior to hitting Schreder’s bike. Yet police didn’t even talk to those witnesses, as they said what occurred a few miles away had no bearing on what actually caused the collision or the charges the driver eventually faced.

I might argue that point. In fact, I have.

But if that’s the way the law is applied to drivers, that’s how it should be applied to cyclists.

So the fact that the victim had been drinking wasn’t the cause of the collision. Nor were the comments that he was weaving in and out of traffic prior to the collision.

The cause of the collision appears to be a car door that was left open in violation of the law, as well as a possible careless cyclist who may or may not have been able to see the door in time to stop safely.

There’s one other thing we should note.

On the Patch site, there’s an imbedded video showing the police investigation at the site of the collision. At the end of that, there is what seems to be a local resident blaming the narrow road and lack of a bike lane in the direction the victim was traveling.

It’s entirely possible that traffic on that narrow street caused the victim to ride in the door zone and could have prevented him from swerving out of the way when — and if — he saw the door blocking his path. It’s also possible that he may have tried to brake to avoid the door.

Bikes seldom leave the skid marks police use to determine if a vehicle tried to stop, which can lead them to erroneously conclude that a rider didn’t brake prior to a collision.

Which is just one more reason why every police traffic investigator should be trained in the unique physics and forensics of bicycle collisions.

This wreck could have occurred exactly as the police suggest. It’s entirely possible that the victim could responsible for his own injuries through his own drunken carelessness.

Or he could be the victim of a careless driver and bad road design.

We’ll probably never know.

But it certainly looks like the police may be going out of their way to blame the victim and let a dooring driver off the hook.

Thanks to Evan G for the heads-up. And say a few prayers for the victim; reading between the lines, his outlook doesn’t sound good.

Dramatic drop in SoCal cycling deaths; Santa Monica police to focus on bad bicyclists behavior in April

Let’s take the good news first.

Only one bike rider appears to have been killed in the entire seven-county Southern California region last month.

According to my records, the only March cycling fatality was 29-year old Pacific Beach resident David Ortiz. As you may recall, Ortiz was originally blamed for riding against traffic, when it actually turned out that he was riding with traffic on his way to work, and was the apparent victim of a hit-and-run driver.

How police could possibly make that mistake is beyond me.

But that’s it.

One death is still one too many, but a single fatality in a region that averages nearly per month is a remarkable improvement. And it compares very favorably to last year when five riders died on SoCal streets in the month of March.

In fact, if we exclude the intentional murder of Corona cyclist Herman Armando Villalobos, the nine cycling fatalities so far this year are exactly half of the 18 that were recorded in the region in the first three months of last year.

As for the reason for that improvement, your guess is as good as mine.

Maybe after a horrible year in 2011, in which 71 cyclists lost their lives in traffic-related wrecks — and another nine were murdered by gunfire — we’re returning to the levels of recent years, with 55 fatalities in 2008 and 2009, and an official count of 48 in 2010.

Or maybe drivers and bicyclists are finally figuring out how to safely coexist on the asphalt.

My fear is that there may be cycling fatalities that just aren’t making the news; at least two occurred last year that were never reported in the media. Or that Google’s recently revised algorithms may mean some stories just don’t rise to the level necessary to show up in my daily news searches.

Although the readers of this site are very good at ensuring important stories make my radar, for which I am very grateful.

Still, just one death for the entire month of March is good news.

Because one death is very close to none.

And it proves it just may be possible to achieve a bicycling Vision Zero, in which no cyclists die on the streets of Southern California.

And if that isn’t the goal of every elected official, it should be.

……..

Now let’s correct a mistake I made over the weekend.

Pacific Palisades’ George Wolfberg — who somehow manages the remarkable feat of flying beneath the radar of most local cyclists despite being one of the area’s most vital bike advocates — forwarded an email to me from a representative of the Santa Monica police, noting that they will be focusing on law-breaking cyclists in the month of April.

And in my rush to get out the door on Saturday, I promptly tweeted that it was from the LAPD. Only to have that promptly retweeted by a dozen or so people.

So imagine my shame when I got back home and read the email again.

Mea culpa. Maxima mea culpa.

My apologies to George, the SMPD, LAPD, and everyone who read or forwarded that mistaken message. My cheeks have been red ever since, and not just from trying to ride in our recent winds.

So here’s the real story.

Every month, the Santa Monica police department focuses on specific behaviors that’s are primary causes of traffic collisions in the Westside’s city by the bay.

And this month, it’s our turn.

For the month of April, SaMo police will be focused on violations by scofflaw cyclists.

That doesn’t mean they’re going to be targeting cyclists. But it does mean that if they see you break the law, you’re more likely to get stopped — and possibly ticketed — than you might be when they’re more focused on other matters.

So take it as fair warning.

If you’re riding in Santa Monica, make a point of signaling, observing the right-of-way and stopping for stop signs for the next 29 days. And especially red lights — even on those T-intersections like the ones on Ocean Ave, where many riders seem to assume there’s no need to stop.

I’m sure the SMPD would be more than happy to explain otherwise.

And stay off the sidewalk.

It’s illegal to ride a bike on the sidewalk in Santa Monica. Even if they don’t post it so riders from out of town might actually know what the local law is.

Which seems sort of like a town creating a speed trap by imposing a low speed limit, then never informing drivers that they need to slow down before writing tickets.

Meanwhile, the CHP is leading a statewide crackdown on distracted drivers this month.

Now if they could keep it up the other 11 months of the year, our streets might actually get a little safer.

……..

One other bit of interesting news in the email George Wolfberg forwarded to me.

In the first three months of this year, Santa Monica police have investigated 37 traffic collisions involving cyclists. And found that drivers have been responsible for the overwhelming majority of those collisions.

Shocking, I know.

Or at least it would be to a lot of bike hating drivers out there, who seem to blame scofflaw cyclists for every collision involving a bike.

In fact, through the first part of March, SaMo police found cyclists at fault in just 31% of the cases — a far cry from last year, when then Chief Jackman blamed riders for being at fault in over three-quarter of bike collisions.

Either we’re riding a lot better, or the SMPD has gotten a better understanding of bike law and how to investigate bike-involved collisions over the past year.

……..

Finally, proof that it’s not just average cyclists who have to worry about getting run down by cars.

Top American cyclist Levi Leipheimer was forced to withdraw from this week’s Tour of the Basque Country after he was hit from behind while training in Spain on Sunday.

Fortunately, he does not seem to be seriously injured.

Leipheimer reportedly didn’t see or hear the car coming before it hit him, describing the collision as “super scary” and saying he feels lucky to be alive. He’s returning to the U.S. today for further examination.

Thanks to David Huntsman for the heads-up.

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