In the aftermath of the Cupertino bicycle fatalities, in which law abiding cyclists were struck and killed by an apparently dozing driver, the San Francisco Chronicle published this article about law breaking scofflaw cyclists. Besides the whole disconnect from the media (law abiding cyclists die, so lets talk about those law breaking cyclists we always see), I commented briefly on one of the main “facts” of the article, which claimed the cyclists are at fault in most bike-car collisions. Can we trust the facts that are reported.
Cycling lawyer Bob Mionske addressed this article in his latest Legally Speaking column at VeloNews. He writes about the negative media bias and law enforcement bias when it comes to discussing cycling and safety.
Erik Ryberg, the Tuscon Bike Lawyer, has also written about “carhead”. Initial reporting from the Murky News about the Cupertino crash described Stevens Canyon Road and the practice of cyclist riding two-abreast on narrow, winding roads as “extremely dangerous,” which had nothing at all to do with the crash. Erik notes another incident of cyclist Mark Schulz who was put in the hospital by a text messaging driver.
The first paragraph makes it sound perfectly natural to be text-messaging while driving, and, if anything, the cyclist snuck up on the driver. The second paragraph makes her sound like she was heroic in her attempts not to hit him, but had to take her licks anyway from the police officer, who had no choice but to cite her. The third paragraph minimizes her actions considerably, admonishing drivers to “be more alert” and “get better at sharing the road.” I just think it’s all kind of weird, given the circumstances.
I mentioned recently the death of cyclist Christopher Rock this week in Santa Cruz. The cyclist was passed by a quarry truck on a narrow street and clipped by the truck, causing him to fall and get crushed under the wheels of the trailer holding four tons of sand. So what does the initial news report say about this cyclist? “He was not wearing a helmet.” Holy moly.
Erik is also fired up about recent incident of assaults against cyclists in Tuscon. He saw some news articles from Pennsylvania, where a hit-and-run driver killed a kid pushing a bike alongside the road. The cops had their man within a day and got a confession out of them. Erik’s experience in Tuscon, on the other hand, is a police force that complains that going after criminals is a waste of time.
Sgt. Tim Beam, representing the police department, insisted that if a victim cannot identify his or her assailant, there is nothing the police can do. So, if the victim is killed or if they did not get a positive look at their assailant, the police therefore do nothing.
Sgt. Beam made this statement to explain why his department does not follow up when bicyclists are assaulted, even if there are witnesses and a license plate is obtained. He repeatedly stated that such follow-up is pointless and a waste of time because no conviction could ever be obtained.
In his VeloNews column, Bob also brings up police bias against cyclists.
it appears the Chronicle’s conclusions are largely drawn from its analysis of police accident reports. The problem with reaching that conclusion, however, is that the underlying data — the police accident reports — are notoriously unreliable, because of the biases inherent in them: Law enforcement failure to interview the cyclist involved, and law enforcement interpretation of safe and legal riding practices as unsafe and/or illegal.
Bob gives some examples of cyclists who are cited for “unsafe speed” in their collisions with cars.
We know that in the case of Lloyd Clarke, “unsafe speed” meant that as Lloyd was proceeding straight through an intersection in Incline Village, a 17 year old driver made a left turn, directly into his path, violating his right of way and killing him instantly. The police didn’t seem at all concerned about that illegal left turn, however. Instead, they reported that Lloyd had been riding “at a high rate of speed.”
Like Bob, I’m certainly aware of cyclists who ride illegally and unsafely, but is it an honest discussion when we’re talking about motorists who break the law, and the media portrayal and police reports continue to paint victims as scofflaws in spite of their lawful riding?
With a shout out to Michael Graff, for whom I still need to provide a comments feed.