Cyclist always at fault!

On September 10, I Bike Fresno (California) posted a link on their Facebook page to a bike safety article in the Fresno Bee. The article itself isn’t that important: it’s the usual reminder that cyclists are required to obey the law, with the usual followup comments from law-abiding avid cyclists rebuking all of those naughty wrong way ninja cyclists who don’t read Interbike bike forums. In the Facebook discussion, a bike riding member of Fresno’s finest posted this comment:

Police statement - cyclist at fault in all crashes

Everyone is correct to make bicycle safety an issue. Show me a traffic collision involving a bike and a car and I’ll show you an accident caused by a cyclist. It’s almost a given.

It sounds like Officer Mosher has already made up his mind before he’s even arrived at the scene!

Shortly after the Bee published its bike safety article, a 60 year old Fresno man was killed while riding his bicycle. A pedestrian was also struck in the same collision and seriously injured. The driver, 45 year old Kenneth Alameda, threw beer bottles at the responding police officers and was arrested. If Alameda didn’t make his impairment so obvious, I wonder if he would’ve been arrested?

A while ago, bike lawyer Bob Mionske wrote on police bias in bicycle accident reports. He believes police accident reports are inherently biased 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.

Take, for example, the data discussed in the Chronicle article that indicates that the most common violation for cyclists was “unsafe speed.” What exactly does that mean? 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.” One month later, Brett Jarolimek was proceeding straight through an intersection in Portland when a garbage truck turned right, across his right of way. He too was killed instantly, and the Portland Police bent over backwards to blame the victim for riding at an “unsafe speed,” going so far as to invent an imaginary statutory requirement that the driver must “perceive” that he has to yield the right of way in order for a violation to have occurred.

We know what happened in Lloyd’s and Brett’s crashes; their right of way was violated, and the police blamed them for “speeding.” How many other crashes where the cyclist was blamed for speeding — remember, this is what the Chronicle identifies as the leading cyclist-at-fault collision — were actually crashes involving a driver violating the cyclist’s right of way? A few more? A lot more? All of them?

Back to Officer Mosher’s cycling safety advice: This is the part of Fresno where he tells people to bike on the sidewalk. It appears he suffers from the typical car-headed thinking that bikes need to always stay out of the way of cars, because motorists are inherently more important than cyclists.



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23 Comments

  • Matthew
    September 17, 2010 - 3:10 pm | Permalink

    I’m going through a very similar situation currently. The bias is real.

  • September 17, 2010 - 3:14 pm | Permalink

    That gmaps image shows a 3 laned road. With a really skinny sidewalk. Surely there is enough room for a bike to ride there. Biased i think so.

  • September 17, 2010 - 3:15 pm | Permalink

    Speeding? I thought bicycling was supposed to be so dangerous because we block traffic with our slowness and cause road rage. Make up your minds, cagers!

  • Janice in GA
    September 17, 2010 - 3:19 pm | Permalink

    This is my biggest worry riding the bike. I’ll be doing everything right, and a motorist will do something illegal, and I’ll be killed or seriously injured.

    And I thought it was GOOD that I could zip through an intersection at 20 mph when I had cars behind me. Now I’d be speeding??? Please.

    I can’t believe a police officer would actually say this. :( We have a long, long way to go.

  • Robertcooper
    September 17, 2010 - 3:44 pm | Permalink

    1 — Most “speeding cyclists” are traveling ten or twenty miles per hour slower than the slowest motorists using the same intersections (through traffic); and

    2 — “Excessive speed” is always safe to add to an collision report, because, obviously, if the traffic had been going just a little slower, the collision would not have happened or would have been less severe. (The extreme case: No motion, no collision.)

    Bob

  • Andy
    September 17, 2010 - 4:37 pm | Permalink

    I tried to make a police report a few years ago when an aggressive driver purposefully cut me off so they could park 200ft ahead. The officer said that it wouldn’t have happened if I drove, and that cycling in February in upstate NY was a bad idea. No mention to the fact that there was an aggressive driver, simply my fault for wanting to ride in the winter.

  • September 17, 2010 - 4:59 pm | Permalink

    I’ve had a couple of similar experiences — it’s basically my fault the “accident” happened because I was on my bike. I even got the “going too fast” lecture once: I was going 25 in a 25 zone, motorist PASSED me (so she had to be speeding) and hooked me.

    This morning I was drafting a school bus going 35 mph through a 25 mph school zone.

  • September 17, 2010 - 4:59 pm | Permalink

    I’ve had a couple of similar experiences — it’s basically my fault the “accident” happened because I was on my bike. I even got the “going too fast” lecture once: I was going 25 in a 25 zone, motorist PASSED me (so she had to be speeding) and hooked me.

    This morning I was drafting a school bus going 35 mph through a 25 mph school zone.

  • danceralamode
    September 17, 2010 - 6:48 pm | Permalink

    Did anyone correct the errant officer on his lack of knowledge of the law? Or are we just discussing this on a blog he’ll never read.

  • September 17, 2010 - 7:08 pm | Permalink

    Good question.

    The California Association of Bicycle Associations (CABO) has interacted with several CHP and local police departments to educate them on cyclist rights, and they’re working on more. I heard about Mosher’s comment from the police education people at CABO, who intend to visit Fresno when they can. In the meantime, it should be Fresno’s bike advocacy people who should response — forcefully — to this officer’s misperceptions about cyclist rights and responsibilities.

    The police education people at CABO are only three people, and they do this on their own dime and own time. Right now, they’re also working on getting the police officers standard training program (POST) changed to address these issues as well.

  • September 18, 2010 - 8:21 am | Permalink

    So I see you have met officer friendly. It all has to do with how important you are. If you are driving an eighty thousand dollar car they will close the road to see what happened. Saying that you were speeding magically makes you at fault. By making you or your corpse at fault the officer has less paperwork to do. The insurance companies are also satisfied. This is no accident that this officer has a god complex. They are told to treat bicyclists and pedestrian accidents with as little importance as possible.

  • Heidi
    September 18, 2010 - 9:13 pm | Permalink

    Just like in Jennifer’s case, Savannah drivers can’t make up their minds either. Motorists don’t want bikes on the road yet they park in our bike lanes. Cyclists can’t win. Many officers on our police force agree with Drew Mosher. That “motorists are more important than cyclists.”

    Our police force takes that opinion one step further and consider motorists more important than pedestrians. Drivers are rarely ticketed for parking on sidewalks. Disheartening and confusing. When a driver steps out of their car, they immediately become a pedestrian!

  • Robertcooper
    September 19, 2010 - 1:33 pm | Permalink

    Janice in GA wrote that we have a long, long way to go. I agree.

    A few years ago, in a newspaper report of a cycling fatality in my community, which involved a car-bike collision, the paper reported that “the cyclist darted out.”

    That’s safe to say because:

    1 — Except for the motorist and the dead cyclist, no one saw this happen; and

    2 — As every astute newspaper reader knows, that’s what cyclists do. They “dart out.”

    For two reasons, instances like the one with Officer Drew Mosher are a good reminder of the importance of following the letter of the law and following the letter of good cycling technique:

    1 — Cycling in traffic is a form of non-verbal communication. Each of us is a visible representative of our kind, and about half of us aren’t doing the right thing in terms of public relations. For that reason, currently, we, as a group, deserve our bad reputation. All members of groups with bad reputations get blamed for events. When trouble breaks out, it’s important that we were not immediately and unquestioningly perceived to be the cause, and most important,

    2 — We were not the cause.

    Bob

  • Roger
    September 20, 2010 - 12:06 pm | Permalink
  • Anonymous
    October 7, 2010 - 7:47 am | Permalink

    Bike advocacy groups in Fresno? Surely you jest.

  • Anonymous
    October 7, 2010 - 7:47 am | Permalink

    Bike advocacy groups in Fresno? Surely you jest.

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  • Anon
    December 22, 2010 - 10:50 pm | Permalink

    Actually, it seems like Drew Mosher means well: he tries to “cut some slack” for using the sidewalks. However, the proverbial road to hell is paved with good intentions: in this case, he may also be mistaken about prohibitions on sidewalk biking (unless if there is a municipal ordinance in Fresno to that effect). I’d suggest you might have more mileage with folks like him by focusing (1) on the the safety of being visible on the roadway vs. sidewalk and (2) keep referring back to the vehicle code, rather than focusing on the bias he currently has.

  • Anon
    December 22, 2010 - 10:50 pm | Permalink

    Actually, it seems like Drew Mosher means well: he tries to “cut some slack” for using the sidewalks. However, the proverbial road to hell is paved with good intentions: in this case, he may also be mistaken about prohibitions on sidewalk biking (unless if there is a municipal ordinance in Fresno to that effect). I’d suggest you might have more mileage with folks like him by focusing (1) on the the safety of being visible on the roadway vs. sidewalk and (2) keep referring back to the vehicle code, rather than focusing on the bias he currently has.

  • Anon
    December 22, 2010 - 10:50 pm | Permalink

    Actually, it seems like Drew Mosher means well: he tries to “cut some slack” for using the sidewalks. However, the proverbial road to hell is paved with good intentions: in this case, he may also be mistaken about prohibitions on sidewalk biking (unless if there is a municipal ordinance in Fresno to that effect). I’d suggest you might have more mileage with folks like him by focusing (1) on the the safety of being visible on the roadway vs. sidewalk and (2) keep referring back to the vehicle code, rather than focusing on the bias he currently has.

  • Anon
    December 22, 2010 - 10:51 pm | Permalink

    Actually, it seems like Drew Mosher means well: he tries to “cut some slack” for using the sidewalks. However, the proverbial road to hell is paved with good intentions: in this case, he may also be mistaken about prohibitions on sidewalk biking (unless if there is a municipal ordinance in Fresno to that effect). I’d suggest you might have more mileage with folks like him by focusing (1) on the the safety of being visible on the roadway vs. sidewalk and (2) keep referring back to the vehicle code, rather than focusing on the bias he currently has.

  • December 22, 2010 - 11:32 pm | Permalink

    @Anon, thank you for that. I like your thinking.

  • Anonymous
    March 18, 2014 - 9:38 am | Permalink

    HE WHAT ARE YOU DOING

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